Paul Laurence Dunbar, "We Wear The Mask"

About this Episode

Rafia Zafar joins the Poetry for All podcast to discuss "We Wear the Mask" by the great poet and writer Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906). Zafar leads us in a discussion of Dunbar's fame and influence while opening up broader themes of African American history and literature. Poetry for All is hosted by Abram Van Engen, professor of English, and Joanne Diaz, professor of English at Illinois Wesleyan University.

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!

For more on Paul Laurence Dunbar, visit The Poetry Foundation.

For more on Rafia Zafar, see her personal website at Washington University in St. Louis.

Youtube has a brief clip from the Library of America hosting Kevin Young's discussion of "We Wear the Mask."

Elizabeth Alexander also discusses this poem for the Library of America.

For more on the poetic form of the rondeau, see the Academy of American Poets.