Paul Lawrence Dunbar
We Wear the Mask
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!
Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872–1906) was an American poet, novelist, and playwright. Born in Dayton, Ohio, to parents who had been enslaved in Kentucky before the American Civil War, Dunbar began to write stories and verse when still a child and was president of his high school’s literary society. He published his first poems at the age of 16 in a Dayton newspaper. Dunbar was one of the first African-American writers to establish an international reputation. He wrote the lyrics for the musical comedy, In Dahomey (1903), the first all-African-American musical produced on Broadway. Suffering from tuberculosis, Dunbar died at the age of 33.
This poem is in the public domain.