In honor of National Poetry Month, today I want to pay homage to one of my favorite poets. Looking through some papers recently, I happened across Paul Laurence Dunbar’s We Wear the Mask and reading it again made me realize why I love it so much. It’s one of my most treasured poems; it resonates with me every time I read it.
Born on June 27, 1872, Paul Laurence Dunbar was the son of freed slaves from Kentucky. Despite his background, Dunbar gained national and international recognition for his poetry. Published in Lyrics of Lowly Life (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1896), We Wear the Mask speaks to the harsh condition African Americans faced. Though born free, Dunbar drew upon the life of his parents, Joshua and Matilda Murphy Dunbar, in his poetry. What I especially love about this poem is its universal and timeless appeal.
We ALL hide behind the mask that “grins and lies” sometimes. It’s part of the human condition. This poem makes me think about how far we go to duck behind the façade of who we really are. And in this age of social media, we can and do create alternate realities. When and where we can be our authentic selves? Can we ever come from behind the mask and live in our Truth? I wonder.
What mask are you wearing? Tell me about it in the comment section.
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!