If you ever have the misfortune to be diagnosed with tuberculosis, be glad you live in the 21st century where you can get sound medical advice. Paul Dunbar (1872-1906), the author of today's favorite poem, contracted the disease and was told by his doctor to treat it by drinking whiskey. Really, doctor? Dunbar died of tuberculosis, exacerbated by the effects of alcoholism, at the age of 33. But before that, he achieved some fame as a poet.
Incidentally, during our visit to Washington, DC, a couple of summers ago, I learned that Dunbar went to high school with Wilbur and Orville Wright, and was class president and editor of the school paper. After school, he started a local newspaper, which was printed by the Wright brothers on their press. There is a little exhibit about Dunbar's association with the Wrights in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
Probably his most well-known poem, and one of my favorites, is "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 debit 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 L Dunbar