Slow Verse

No need to rush: These lines have lots of time.
They never face a hanging at first light.
They can take pains to whittle a neat rhyme
And years to get each subtle cadence right,
But they can never take the hero’s part,
They can’t shout in the streets what must be said,
Convey the words to mend a breaking heart,
Brandish the silent challenge of the dead,
For those demand another sort of pen,
One improvised to staunch a gush of blood,
A hasty scrawl that won’t be scanned again,
A jagged shriek of warning in a flood:
The page that speaks for all the quickly crushed
Reads like a wind, but this one won’t be rushed.



Mother with Child

The perfect image of our Paragon!
How many times I’ve seen that woman there,
The icon of tough love and tender care,
Standing into the glory of her son!
What do they model forth but artists’ own
Compelling dreams? All human genomes share
The same necessity’s pruning. The pair
Survive because they point to everyone.
Survival shapes perfection, I suppose.
Those forms have lasted twenty centuries
Because they share the beauty all men crave:
The bloom of health and hope that richly grows
Out of the Earth’s dark mould of miseries
Around this garden that was once a grave.



Lionel Willis was born in Toronto in 1932 and served as Professor of English Literature at Ryerson University in Toronto 1958 to 1992. His publications including The Dreamstone and Other Rhymes (The Plowman 2002), Heartscape, a Book of Bucolic Verse (Eidolon 2019). He currently lives in Toronto. 

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9 Responses

  1. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Lionel, “Slow Verse” is a triumph of a sonnet that needs to be read slowly in order to savor the “neat rhyme” and “subtle cadence”. My poetry leans towards that “jagged shriek of warning in a flood”, and I am now inspired to simmer down, slow down, and “whittle” my shrieking sonnets to silky-smooth, superb success. Thank you!

  2. C.B. Anderson

    Indeed, Mr. Willis, the delicacy and precision of expression in these two sonnets are balm to the mind’s ear.

    In “Slow Verse” (line 10) should not “staunch” be “stanch” instead?

  3. Paul Freeman

    ‘Slow Verse’ really did speak to me, as it obviously spoke to Susan, too.

    Thank you for two fine sonnets, Mr Willis.

  4. Joseph S. Salemi

    Both sonnets are beautiful but I like “Slow Verse” the best, because its argument is subtle and needs a few readings to be understood. If we take the poem as a general comment on the sonnet as a genre, it seems to suggest that the sonnet form is to be avoided when you are dealing with intense, energetic, and highly charged subjects. I think this is debatable, but it is one point of view (the laid-back “moment’s monument” school of thought).

    • C.B. Anderson

      I’ve never heard of that school of thought, Joseph. Can you give me one or two examples of what comes out of that school?

  5. Cynthia Erlandson

    I especially love “Mother and Child” — particularly the last three lines, which are very moving and exquisite!

  6. C.B. Anderson

    I’ve never heard of that school of thought, Joseph. Can you give me one or two examples of what comes out of that school?

  7. David Watt

    Lionel, your sonnets are thoughtful, and a pleasure to read. I especially
    enjoyed ‘Slow Verse’ because it is a sonnet which, as the title suggests, benefits from slowly savoring each line.


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