I’ve been thinking of today’s poem, “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar, almost daily since masks became a must-have accessory. This poem is about the pain Black Americans hid under a mask of happiness during the post Civil War era. Today we wear physical masks to protect ourselves and each other from getting the virus, but don’t we also sometimes wear the other mask Dunbar writes about to hide our true feelings?
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
What masks do you wear? What are you protecting yourself from? When and for whom do you take off your mask?
In need of a mask? My neighbor will make you a gorgeous mask in exchange for a small act of kindness. Check out her new smallkindnesses.club website (inspired in part by the “Small Kindnesses” poem she read on this blog).
“We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar, from The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Copyrighted material used for educational or therapeutic purposes.
Photo credit: lrcsda.com