Wednesday, June 27, 2012

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.

Paul Laurence Dunbar was born in Dayton, Ohio a hundred and forty years ago today.

Despite racial and economic obstacles, and despite dying of tuberculosis (compounded by alcoholism) at age thirty-three, Dunbar published some two-dozen books — short stories, novels, plays, librettos, songs, as well as the more famous poetry.

At the turn of the century, this output elevated Dunbar to “poet laureate of the negro race,” and the literary scholars say that he was one of the very first black Americans to gain an international, biracial readership. 

The scholars also debate how many of those readers appreciated his full accomplishment, or even allowed his true voice.

Dunbar wrote in two distinctive and somewhat incompatible styles.

Much of his “plantation writing,” describing the sort of life his parents knew as Kentucky slaves, is in dialect — below, the first stanza of "Death Song," now inscribed on Dunbar’s gravestone:

Lay me down beneaf de willers in de grass, 
Whah de branch'll go a-singin' as it pass 
An' w'en I's a-layin' low, 
I kin hyeah it as it go Singin', 

"Sleep, my honey, tek yo' res' at las'."



  1. Poet Dunbar was the first black-American who succeeded in earning distinction and was accepted despite his negro dialect in his poetry.

    Thank you "Thinking" for sharing this beautiful peace of unforgetable poet!

  2. I live in a community which has prized Dunbar and he was recited at special events. Such a well-written reminder of his amazing gift and accomplishments at such a young age and with so many handicaps.

    How great to see that your own competent writing continues here.

    Bless your writing in all it's many forms.

  3. I don't know Dunbar's work. I shall try to remedy that. Thanks for introducing him.

  4. Dear All...

    I am honored.

    Thank you so much.