Poets & Writers

A Poet a Day: Maya Angelou

Reading "We Wear the Mask" by Paul Laurence Dunbar

A Poet a Day: Maya Angelou

During these trying days of social distancing, self-isolating and quarantines, days rife with fear and anxiety, my colleagues and I thought you might like some company. So each day we will be introducing you to poets we have met over the years. The only contagion they will expose you to is a measure of joy, reflection and meditation brought on by “the best words in the best order.”
— Bill Moyers

Over the years and on several occasions, Bill interviewed Maya Angelou, the legendary author and poet. In this clip, we revisit an episode from his 1982 series “Creativity” in which Moyers and Angelou returned to the small town of Stamps, Arkansas, where she spent much of her childhood, and she recites Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem, “We Wear the Mask.”

“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!

Paul Laurence Dunbar, “We Wear the Mask” from The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar. (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company)

Watch more of Bill Moyers’s interviews with Maya Angelou in our video archive.