Episode 39

Paul Laurence Dunbar, We Wear The Mask


February 2nd, 2022

22 mins 9 secs

Season 4

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About this Episode

This week, Rafia Zafar joins us to discuss "We Wear the Mask" by the great poet and writer Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906). Rafia leads us in a discussion of Dunbar's fame and influence while opening up broader themes of African American history and literature.

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.

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