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 overwise,
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
Here's a poem that grabbed me from PoemHunter.com, which sends me (mostly) stilted classics every day. I don't know how I got on their mailing list. The blend of rhyme (a kind of mask in itself), theme and diction is perfect until, for me at least, the sympathetic contract is strained by the trite "tortured souls" and "vile clay" in the final stanza ... . But it could be argued that that too -- and the belief system behind it -- is Dunbar's mask, and the rhetoric of the poem does demand that kind of emotional crecendo at the end. If the poem seems dated, well, Dunbar did live between 1872 and 1904. One of the first African American poets to achieve prominence in white-dominated American and European literary circles, his bio is fascinating. More Dunbar poems can be found here.