Three Poems by William Reed Dunroy

Corn Tassels by William Reed DunroyGrowing up in southwestern Iowa, the poet William Reed Dunroy arrived in Omaha, NE, at the age of twenty. Shuffling between jobs, Dunroy soon enrolled in the University of Nebraska and then became a contributor to The Lincoln Courier. Though he spent only ten years in the state, Nebraska was the central focus of his three books of poetry. In fact, his Corn Tassels (1897) was dedicated “To the state I love, NEBRASKA, and to her people.”

Reviewed by a Chicago paper, Corn Tassels

… tells of prairies and sod houses and desolation and aspiration and other things which are mixed in with the life of the homesteader. But while youth impels the author to write pessimistically sometimes, a wholesome life and an honest heart cause him to see a great deal of good in his sandhill world (quoted in Shipers 196).

More than a century later, the scholar Dr. Carrie Shipers summarizes his work thus:

Dunroy’s use of rhyming iambic tetrameter and pentameter is frequently clumsy, and his musings on such themes as death, hope, and the comfort to be found in Christian faith can be cloyingly conventional (201).

Dr. Shipers is right, but what follows now are three poems from Corn Tassels that I found particularly interesting. Melancholic – melodramatic – hopefully you enjoy them, too.


The Rose in Her Hair

There’s a scarlet rose in my lady’s hair
And her gown in silken white,
On her cheek there’s a delicate rosy glow
Like the birth of a ruddy light.

There’s a pale white rose in my lady’s hair
And her gown is a leaden white,
Her cheeks are pale and her slender hands
Are clasped together tight.

There’s a phantom rose in my lady’s hair,
And her gown in misty white,
I see her no more in all the world,
Save in my dreams at night.


Life is but a tragic tale,
By countless players told,
Birth begins it, marriage next,
Then death — the play is old.

Laughter and joy to some,
To others, sorrow and shade,
Two dates carved on a stone,
And the play is played.

Dead Leaves

Whirl, dead leaves, whirl,
In your withered waltz of death,
Whirl to the dirging music piped
By Autumn’s sighing breath.

Whirl, dead leaves, whirl,
Dance with the ghostly breeze,
Over the bare brown earth,
Under the naked trees.

Whirl, dead leaves, whirl,
And drift in a dreary dance,
Like our own short lives
Blown here and there by chance.

Further Reading

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