I laugh, but with wild laughter nearer tears.
As if seen in distorting mirrors, all
Have crooked noses and grin from ear to ear
Like grotesques at a Venetian carnival
The circle closes in and rings me round.
They seize me, forcing me to take my place
And join the dance. My features they confound
And see a mask where is but my face.
Confetti fills the hall and fireworks flare!
The masks scowl hatefully and look askance:
Iím out of step, they cry, and take no care -
I tread upon the others in the dance.
What shall I do? Shall I take flight, I ask,
Or shall I stay and frolic with these creatures?
Can I not hope, behind an animal mask,
To find a face endowed with human features?
For each of them is wearing mask and wig,
Some from literature, some from old romances.
The one beside me sports a harlequinís rig,
The next a hangmanís and a third a dunceís.
With loud guffaws I join the merry crowd,
But still I feel uneasy, though I laugh.
Supposing one - a hangman - grows too fond
Of his grim mask and will not take it off?
What if a harlequin should learn to love
His mournful face, and so be sad forever?
Or if a fool should like his mask enough
To forget his wits and lose them altogether?
The spiteful masks pour scorn on me, and rail;
The jolly ones are starting to be irked.
Hidden behind them, as if behind a wall,
Furtively watching, human faces lurk.
I run after my muses and give chase,
Hard on their heels, but thereís not one Iíll ask
To throw off her disguise and show her face -
For might she not reveal half-face, half-mask?
But how can I spot goodness? Recognize
The rogues and tell them from the honest ones?
Each dons his mask and puts on his disguise
So as not to dash his face against the stones.
And yet, Iíve plumbed their secret. If correct -
And Iíve no serious grounds for doubting it -
I know the indifferent mask is to protect
The real face from blows and gobs of spit.