African American Poetry (1870-1926): A Digital Anthology

Paul Laurence Dunbar, "We Wear the Mask" (1895)

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 oh 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!


Published in Majors and Minors (1895), Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896) and many times subsequently. 

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