Poetry discussion - We Wear the Mask by Paul Laurence Dunbar

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Joined in 2008
April 28, 2010, 20:15

I was flipping through my literature book today and this poem caught my eye. After reading it, I felt like it really resonated with the experience of many gay Christians, especially those who are closeted. What are your thoughts or responses to this poem? I would be interested in hearing what you all have to say.

We Wear the Mask

by Paul Laurence 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 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!

Ann Maree
Joined in 2008
April 28, 2010, 21:37

Hi gettingthere

Thanks for sharing this poem.

I’m sure many gay people who are closetted, whether of faith or not, would relate to this. And especially those who are closetted in churches. However, I see the use of the mask applying in a much broader context than the LGBT/Christian communities. There is a societal expectation that we as humans must keep any problems to ourselves rather than show our true feelings. We see this in the most basic of everyday social transactions like: “Hi”. “How are you?”, to which the expected reply is: “Well thanks”. If anything to the contrary is said, watch the response. Unless you’ve got a perceptive and caring person asking the question with true genuineness, they’re likely to run for the hills as soon as the expected reply isn’t forthcoming.

So who can be entrusted with our pain and most real feelings? I would suggest only a prized few who have been tested and shown to be trustworthy, able to accept us in all our humanness. In my experience those people are a rare gift.


Ann Maree

Joined in 2008
April 28, 2010, 22:45

Yep, the poem certainly would reflect the experiences of many closeted LGBT people, christian or not.

But we have a choice … to wear the mask … or not to wear it …

Sometimes that choice is dictated by various circumstances that we don’t have control over … yet …

In terms of taking off the mask … it’s about making the right choice … with the right information … with the right support 🙂

Joined in 2009
April 30, 2010, 00:42

The imagery of wearing a mask (a persona) is at least as old as greek drama…. (I won’t go there- year 8 English was a looong time ago!)

I used to think I was honest- and therefore, not wearing a mask. But I think I was successfully lying to myself about that!! Sometimes my wife used to say to me “you just put your head in the sand”- I guess there were a whole lot of things in life I didn’t deal with. Now I am out and single, I think I’ve faced up to a lot of those issues, and I’ve taken the biggest mask off, and maybe some of the other ones too. I daren’t say that they’re all gone.

We live

We learn

We grow

don’t stop!!


Joined in 2008
May 1, 2010, 16:24

Speaking of masks, I was watching Foreign Correspondent on ABC TV this morning, where the issue of women wearing the Burkha in France was being debated. There is a proposal by the French government to ban it from public life. I couldn’t help but draw some associations between our GLBT world and that of Muslim women ie living authentically, being true to ourselves, balancing the expectations of our religion and our personal values, to name a few.

We indeed “Walk between Two Worlds” in many ways …

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