Paul Laurence Dunbar was the first African-American poet to garner national critical acclaim. Dunbar penned a large body of dialect poems, standard English poems, essays, novels and short stories before he died at the age of 33. His work often addressed the difficulties encountered by African-Americans to achieve equality in America. He was praised both by the prominent literary critics of his time and his literary contemporaries. His mother was a former slave and his father had escaped from slavery and served in the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and the 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry Regiment during the Civil War.


Here is my favorite poem by Mr. Dunbar:

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!

22 Comments

  1. Another amazing poet! I think this is my favorite poem by him too. Between this one and \”When Malindy Sings\”… I\’m glad you decided to celebrate Black History month this way.Gwyneth

  2. That poem definitely speaks the truth. In ways which I\’m sure Paul Dunbar expressed best.Before reading your post, I\’d never heard of him. Thanks for sharing. wow @ died @ the young age of 33.

  3. I have not read a lot of Dunbar\’s work. This one is excellent. It clearly reflects the duality that African Americans often had to live with, and in many cases still do. To some extent, though, we all do this and so it is really a universal theme

  4. I once did a poem on the same topica nd many of the Bulgarian poets doe excellent job with teh mask as a metaphor. I see a great use here. Life is just a mascarade of pain blushed in forced happiness.

  5. I am intrigued by the title of the poem Gwyneth mentions and have to echo her comment because I am also so glad that you celebrated Black History month this way!Every poem you have posted has reached and stayed with me in some way. Each one has been so different too!Thank you 😀

  6. Gwyneth,Thanks. I love this one. I may have to do an addendum concerning one of my poems and what my professor said. :*) Don,He expressed it wonderfully! :*) He died at 33 due to a brief illness and his excessive drinking, especially after his wife left him.Charles,I agree. :*) He was not that far removed from slavery. Bias still exists, unfortunately.Daydream,Well put. :*)Miladysa,Thank you so much for reading them and keeping them with you. They\’ve always stayed with me! :*)

  7. Tempest,Do that! You\’ll enjoy it! :*)Lana,Yes it is! :*)Cora,You\’ll enjoy him. He was far ahead of his time. :*)Karrie, You\’re welcomeDejanae,It is quite lovely. :*)Raine,This was always my favorite for a very specific reason. I may post about why at a later date! :*)Daydream,Unfortunately, this is the last poem of the month. There will be more interesting things to come. :*)

  8. That poor guy didn\’t get to live a very long life.Imagine the other inspiring poems he could have written if only he\’d lived at least another 30-40 years.

  9. Perposterous,Oh, how I agree! I cannot even imagine the brilliance that would have come from him.Don,Man is his own downfall! :P“` Without women, men would still be running around on all fours, hunting for something to eat and grunting…lol! LOL! :*)AW,You\’re welcome! :*)Chris,You\’re right. Poetry that moves has done its job! :*)

  10. Why should the world be overwise,In counting all our tears and sighs?I love this line. It almost spoke to me of a great and timeless tragic story. What an excellent poem. I am truly enjoying your tribute to these great poets.

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