Advancing in Poetry Advancing in Poetry    

Lesson 13: We Wear the Mask

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Performer: Librivox - Ransom

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 oh 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!

    Advancing in Poetry Advancing in Poetry    

Lesson 13: We Wear the Mask

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Performer: Librivox - Ransom


Study the poem for one week.

Over the week:

  • Read or listen to the poem.
  • Review the synopsis.
  • Read about the poet.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.


Paul Laurence Dunbar's 'We Wear the Mask,' describes how people wear the protective mask of a public persona to hide our vulnerable true selves and feelings. According to the book, 'Paul Laurence Dunbar,' by Peter Revell, Dunbar wrote specifically about how black Americans in the late nineteenth century felt pressured to pretend happiness in the face of racial discrimination and tensions.


  1. Paul Laurence Dunbar was born in 1872 in Dayton, Ohio.
  2. Zoom in and find Dunbar's state of birth, Ohio (OH), on the map of the United States.
  3. Dunbar's parents were slaves in Kentucky before being emancipated after the American Civil War. Find Kentucky (KY) on the map of the United States.
  4. Dunbar started writing poetry as a child and published his first poem at the age of 16.
  5. Dunbar was editor of his high school newspaper and president of its literary society.
  6. Dunbar was a novelist (wrote books), playwright (wrote plays), and lyricist (wrote words to songs) in addition to being a poet.
  7. Dunbar was the first black American poet to attain widespread international recognition.
  8. Dunbar died of tuberculosis in Dayton, Ohio at the age of 33.


Activity 1: Recite Poem Information

Recite the title of the poem and the name of the poet.

Activity 2: Study the Poem Picture

Study the poem picture and describe how it relates to the poem.

Activity 3: Recite the Poem

Practice reciting the poem aloud.

Activity 4: Complete Book Activities   

  • Click the crayon above, and complete pages 80-86 of 'Elementary Poetry 4: Advancing in Poetry.'


  1. 'Paul Laurence Dunbar.' Wikipedia. n.p.
  2. Peter Revell. 'Paul Laurence Dunbar.' Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979. Copyright © 1979 by G.K. Hall and Co.