In 10th grade I took “Enriched English.” It was the English course that would best set me up for AP English in 12th grade (a class I never got the chance to take).
My teacher had us constantly reading, writing and memorizing. He made us memorize poems. There were only two that stuck with me. The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost I remember because it is one of the most quoted poems of all times (let’s be honest, it has become a cliché).
The other poem was by Paul Laurence Dunbar. It is called “We Wear the Mask.”
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!
It was written about slavery. It hit a chord with me and has stuck with me for ten years now. Something about the desire to cry out in pain, but smile for the world instead. It isn’t that I’m an unrest soul, but there are times I would rather cry or scream and instead I smile and move on. I’m sure we all have days like that. This poem gives comfort when impulses can’t be released.