We Wear The Mask | Poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar

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We wear the mask Paul Laurence Dunbar Poem
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We Wear The Mask – The Poem

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!

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Your Story

I was standing in my balcony, and watching a child, around 3-4 years old, trying to mend his tricycle on the other side of the road. Watching children grossly involved in their stuff and trying to get them done is my favorite pastime.

A few moments back he was riding it smoothly in the garden outside his house. And suddenly, I don’t know, what heroic idea brewed-up in his mind, he hit the fence really hard from the front of his cycle. Maybe he wanted to go out of the garden and ride his little cycle along with the other bikes and cars on the road. But he was intelligent enough to know that if he asked for permission from his mother, he won’t get it. So maybe break the fence and run away was the best bet.

This little accident broke the basket at the front, turned the whole tricycle lost control, and it fell down leftwards along with the child. But it was grass so it didn’t hurt so much in his knee and elbow.

We Wear the Mask Paul Laurence Dunbar Story
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The kid was too young but smart enough to know that he had to put in place the basket and the toys in it that got scattered before his mother comes out and start scolding him. He tried various permutations and combinations to put back the basket, but it wasn’t working. Then he saw a little piece of cloth hanging from a shelf that was way above his reach. But I guess he was trying to get hold of it because he wanted to tie the basket using it. So to get it, he climbed a table. He got the cloth and as he was trying to get down from the table, he lost the balance and fell down. Maybe, he hurt his knee and started crying.

Hearing his cries, his mother came out. “What happened honey?”, she enquired. Just as he saw his mother coming out, he quickly wiped out his tears and started laughing. That was a weird kind of laughter, the laughter in the middle of crying. I was watching from the distance, but I knew there was a pain.

He put a mask on his face, a mask of laughter to hide the pain. He wanted to hide his notoriety.

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar Poems
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Paul Laurence Dunbar (June 27, 1872 – February 9, 1906) was an American poet, novelist, and playwright of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Born in Dayton, Ohio to parents who were enslaved in Kentucky before the American Civil War, Dunbar began to write stories and verse as a child and published his first poems at the age of 16 in a Dayton newspaper. He was also president of his high school’s literary society.

Much of Dunbar’s more popular work in his lifetime was written in the “Negro dialect” associated with the antebellum South, though he also used the Midwestern regional dialect of James Whitcomb Riley. Dunbar’s work was praised by William Dean Howells, a leading editor associated with Harper’s Weekly, and Dunbar was one of the first African-American writers to establish an international reputation. He wrote the lyrics for the musical comedy In Dahomey (1903), the first all-African-American musical produced on Broadway in New York. The musical later toured in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Dunbar also wrote in conventional English in other poetry and novels. Since the late 20th century, scholars have become more interested in these other works. Suffering from tuberculosis, which they had no cure, Dunbar died in Dayton, Ohio at the age of 33.

To read more about Dunbar, click here.

We Wear The Mask – Poem Analysis / Summary

The story above is of a child, wearing the mask of laughter to hide his pain and guilt of his notoriety. But, if we look into ourselves, we are all guilty of wearing a mask, sometimes to hide our joy, sometimes to hide the pain, sometimes to put a cloak on our fears, and sometimes to not reveal our nervousness.

But the poet here has a question that why are people always so interested in counting our feelings hidden behind the mask. Why can’t they just take us with our masks? There is a reason why we put this mask, why can’t everyone just let it be.

Maybe those trying to help by getting to what is behind the mask won’t help. Maybe it will only aggravate what is behind.


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We wear the mask Paul Laurence Dunbar Poem
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