May 31 – Summer begins

Friday, May 31  –  Thomas Merton

“Let no one touch this gentle sun  —
In whose dark eye  —
Someone is awake.”

For this last poem of the academic year, I looked back to May of 2015 for a strong poet’s voice.  I found this short poem written by Thomas Merton.   In his later years, Merton’s awareness of the power of mysticism kept on maturing.  More than many sacred writers, Merton dove deep into the secular west (Paris, London, New York);  into Eastern Mysticism in creative tension with Western mysticism;   into Trappist monastic living (i.e., Gethsemani Abby from his entrance on Dec 10, 1941 until his accidental death the same day and year that theologian Karl Barth died, Dec 10, 1968).

Mystics respect the poverty of human language. Words are not the author’s property.  Words are not the reader’s property either.  A poet’s words invite you to find your self somewhere — mysterious and alive.

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

p.s. June and July can interrupt the regular rhythms of work, surprise us, catch the playful in us more than ordinarily.   If a post appears on the list during these next two months, it means someone’s strong words surprised me and made me want to share the surprise.

Back to a more regular rhythm the first week of August.

Have a blest summer.


john sj

Today’s Post – A Song to Nobody

A yellow flower
(Light and spirit)
Sings by itself
For nobody.

A golden spirit
(Light and emptiness)
Sings without a word
By itself.

Let no one touch this gentle sun
In whose dark eye
Someone is awake.

(No light, no gold, no name, no color
And no thought:
O, wide awake!)
A golden heaven
Sings by itself
A song to nobody.

“There is no way of telling strangers they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

Thomas Merton
January 31, 1915 – December 10, 1968

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May 28 “Renewed Commitment of the Jesuit Refugee Service”

Tuesday,  May 28  JRS  — “Home”  Warsan Shire

Thinking, on Memorial Day, about tomorrow’s post on May 28;  my remembering killed and maimed soldiers and honoring their sufferings intersected with reading a world wide letter from the Superior General of us Jesuits, Fr. Arturo Sosa, sj.   The letter came out recently and is titled  “Renewed Commitment of the Jesuit Refugee Service.”

One of our great saints and heroes, General Superior Pedro Arrupe (1907 – 1991), wrote the Jesuits across the world in 1980 calling us to give our hearts and our attention and our resources to the global crisis of homeless refugees.  (n.b., Last year “68.5 million people walk the ways of the world after being forced from their homes.”)   This is another call to honor the victims of war on this Memorial Day.

Best to read Warsan Shire’s stark “Home” out loud, with pauses.  We’ve posted “Home” several times before;  like many strong poems, it bears re-reading.

Have a blest week.


john sj

Today’s Post: – Warsan Shire, “Home”

no one leaves home unless

home is the mouth of a shark.

you only run for the border

when you see the whole city running as well.

your neighbours running faster

than you, the boy you went to school with who kissed you dizzy behind

the old tin factory is

holding a gun bigger than his body,

you only leave home

when home won’t let you stay.

no one would leave home unless home chased you, fire under feet,

hot blood in your belly.

it’s not something you ever thought about doing, and so when you did –

you carried the anthem under your breath, waiting until the airport toilet

to tear up the passport and swallow,

each mouthful of paper making it clear that you would not be going back.

you have to understand,

no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.

who would choose to spend days

and nights in the stomach of a truck

unless the miles traveled

meant something more than journey.

no one would choose to crawl under fences,

be beaten until your shadow leaves you,

raped, then drowned, forced to the bottom of

the boat because you are darker, be sold,

starved, shot at the border like a sick animal,

be pitied, lose your name, lose your family,

make a refugee camp a home for a year or two or ten,

stripped and searched, find prison everywhere

and if you survive and you are greeted on the other side

with go home blacks, refugees

dirty immigrants, asylum seekers

sucking our country dry of milk,

dark, with their hands out

smell strange, savage –

look what they’ve done to their own countries,

what will they do to ours?

the dirty looks in the street

softer than a limb torn off,

the indignity of everyday life

more tender than fourteen men who

look like your father, between

your legs, easier to swallow

than rubble, than your child’s body

in pieces – for now, forget about pride

your survival is more important.

i want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark

home is the barrel of the gun

and no one would leave home

unless home chased you to the shore

unless home tells you to

leave what you could not behind, even if it was human.

no one leaves home until home

is a damp voice in your ear saying

leave, run now, i don’t know what

i’ve become.

Warsan Shire b. 1 August 1988

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May 22 – still tulip time

May 22, 2019

“to keep his date with love”

Today, a little past mid May, during an iffy spring alive with teasing weather, feels like a good day to read W. H. Auden’s puckish celebration of love’s passion and tenderness around and through these fickle, unpredictable work days.   Sure, a little time to pause and read this poem out loud can do us all good.

Have a blest Wednesday

john sj

Detroit Mercy campus, April 22, 2006

Today’s Post –  “Song”

The chimney sweepers
Wash their faces and forget to wash the neck;
The lighthouse keepers
Let the lamps go out and leave the ships to wreck;
The prosperous baker
Leaves the rolls in hundreds in the oven to burn;
The undertaker
Pins a small note on the coffin saying, “Wait till I return,
I’ve got a date with Love.”

And deep-sea divers
Cut their boots off and come bubbling to the top,
And engine-drivers
Bring expresses in the tunnel to a stop;
The village rector
Dashes down the side-aisle half-way through a psalm;
The sanitary inspector
Runs off with the cover of the cesspool on his arm-
To keep his date with Love.

February 21, 1907 – September 29, 1973

Poem: “Song” by W.H. Auden, from As I Walk Out One Evening: Songs, Ballads, Lullabies, Limericks, and Other Light Verse. © Vintage Books. Reprinted with permission


p.s. A prayer;

Give me a grateful heart to live from
Attentive to savor the blessings received
Playful to expect your surprises
Trusting, to commit myself to Your commitment to me.

A teaching about prayer:

Ignatius suggests that every day I consider the inner “movements” of that day but that before I consider, I begin with gratitude for my life as it is now (not as it may become in my future).

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May 17 – first Friday after Commencement days – Fatemeh Keshavarz

friday after Friday, May 17 –   about very old wine and time for contemplation

“My city is
That cup of sunshine
I can drink to the last drop
And be thirsty for more.”

On this first Friday of the first work week after a beautiful Commencement, an intuition sent me back to Fatemeh Keshavarz and her contemplation of 7000-year-old wine.   “Breathe a little more often than usual”;  that’s what this morning’s intuition tells me.  Might be good for you too.

Monday, November 14   Shiraz, “the oldest sample of wine in the world”

Poet Fatemeh Keshavarz reaches deep in time to she lift up the beauty Shiraz, her home city in Iran.   Shiraz has lived as a center for art and beauty for c. 4000 years.   Wikipedia tells me that “The oldest sample of wine in the world, dating to approximately 7,000 years ago, was discovered on clay jars recovered outside of Shiraz.”  Detroit is only 313 years old and the United States a lot younger than that, but in these days of terrified immigrants and their children,  of taunts boiling up from decades of grinding working class peoples’ losses, the poet’s praise of her ancient home town in Iran, another home place of the resonant beauty and raw nerves offers stillness and courage to celebrate the simple beauty of a glass of good wine.

I am using Fatemeh’s poem to celebrate the courage of refugees and immigrants today.  Lift a glass when you get off work.   Perhaps before that, read the poem out loud, with pauses.

Have a blest day.


john sj


Rocky Mountain National Park, during Ignatian Colleagues’ silent retreat c. 2013

Today’s Post:    “Shiraz”

Held up to gods
In the palm of a giant’s hands
A rare handcrafted marble cup
Brimming with sunshine
Defined at the outer edges
With tall cypress trees
That line up at dawn reverently
To interpret the horizons
In their meticulous green thoughts
My city is
That cup of sunshine
I can drink to the last drop
And be thirsty for more.

Shiraz, Dec.21, 2000

University of Detroit Mercy — Celebrate Spirit 2012


Fatemeh Keshavarz — b. 1952 – Shiraz Iran

Professor Keshavarz, University of Maryland’s Roshan Chair of Persian Studies, is a poet and a scholar.   On September 11, 2014 she read poetry for the university’s annual Celebrate Spirit Mass.

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May 15 – two for the ages — Judge Damon Keith and Jean Vanier

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

I’ve read quite a few memorials these past days in which the word “giant” appears frequently.  Both these men matter in my life, as do my university’s graduates who “walked” last Friday and Saturday.

Judge Damon Keith:

“But he was also the neighbor who strolled the track at the University of Detroit Mercy with Ann Brothers Smith, who would become associate superintendent of Detroit Public Schools. And he was the friendly face who called out to her lawyer son the first time he appeared in Keith’s court:

‘How’s your mama?’”
“Judge Keith recalled as a giant in law, life”  Neal Rubin
The Detroit News  May 14, 2019

Bill Clarke, sj: (edited from the note I posted on our Jesuit Community bulletin board last night)

“Bill Clarke called me yesterday evening.  We had planned that I would drive to Guelph today for one of our ordinary overnight spiritual direction conversations.  However last night, Bill called to tell me that in the past few days two important men in his life had died, both in their early 90s.  One is his older brother; the other is Jean Vanier, the soul and founder of the world-wide L’Arche movement.  Bill is a co-founder of L’Arche; Bill’s brother  was perhaps his closest soul friend, even closer than Jean was.   Our conversation fills me with tenderness for Bill who has been my soul’s companion since my 30 day retreat in 1980.   We had planned that I would drive to Guelph today.  I won’t. We settled on 2+ weeks from now before we take to our calendars to schedule an alternative date.  I told Bill that I will carry him in my soul these days,  as he has so often carried me.  I want to invite your prayers too.

p.s.  Bill wrote an early account of L’Arche, Enough Room for Joy: The Early Days of L’Arche.  2006


Today’s  Post:  “The Writer” — Richard Wilbur

“And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again”

Richard Wilbur’s contemplation of a daughter, laboring to write on what would now be an antique typewriter, writing, in my reading, of the aftermath of World War I,  during the 5 years of the rolling shock waves of chemical warfare horrors twisting the faces and bodies of maimed soldiers returning from World War I in Europe and, far too often, not finding jobs to honor their broken bodies. 1919 began a half-decade of fear and rage, of  contempt for most immigrants, and for fellow citizens with whom one differed.  A year not unlike the years in which we now live.

I love it that Wilbur recognized the wonder of young human beings risking so much to launch into their futures.  So, along with the passing of Judge Keith and Jean Vanier, Richard Wilbur’s understated celebration of a brave young writer is meant to recall the sheer beauty of 1473 women and men who walked to receive their diplomas and certificates from our President Antoine Garibaldi this past weekend.  Our basketball arena was filled with immensely excited moms, dads, plus lots of friends and kin.  Sheer beauty.

Have a blest day.


john sj

“The Writer”  Richard Wilbur

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which

The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.

I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash

And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark

And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,

And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,

It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.

It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.

Richard Wilbur

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May 3 — “what it means to be Catholic when you’re a young liberal feminist . . . “


In the last three decades or so, a new theory for identifying  human life on an archaeological site treats the organic remains of flowers at a burial site as more compelling evidence of humanity than finding tools on the site.   Beauty offered to treat someone who has died as beautiful and sacred may run more deeply human than the ability to set goals and marshal resources to achieve them.  This early May weekend will bring some citizens from our university community of learning on Six Mile and Livernois across the state to St. Joseph where we will cherish one of our Robotics Engineering students, Miles Kelleher.  He left us, and his young life, last Saturday. We will drive, carrying with us our love for Miles, to join other student and teacher friends, and his family, in this deep goodbye.  The drive, the stories we will tell and listen to today and tomorrow, are beautiful deeply human;  perhaps we can imagine the stories as the flowers we bring to say, with their beauty, that Miles’ beauty will endure and travel our lives with us.

Today’s Post

Today poem was written by another of our students and posted here last August.  It evoked more email comments than any of the nearly 700 posts since the list began in September 2013.  The beauty of Maria Ibarra’s language and cadence has stayed in my imagination all this year.  As I post her words again, I  imagine them as flowers brought to Mile’s place in the world.

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.   May these next days bless you.


john sj


Today’s Post  Maria Ibarra Frayre

Friday, May 3, 2019
“But how can they believe me?

When sometimes I don’t even believe myself.
Maybe it’s time to be loud.”



“Being Catholic”

I wear my faith quietly,

like a pebble in your pocket

Smooth and cold,

Comforting when you hold it tight in your hand.

But to be more honest,

I wear my faith secretly, cautious of who

to tell the truth because

I’m not sure how my circle

of liberal, leftists, almost

socialists would take it.

How could I, a feminist who uses reason,

logic, and kindness, follow a church

that doesn’t let women be leaders?

Follow a God

who believes LGBTQ loved ones will rot in hell?

follow an institution

that rapes children?



I want to tell them that

that isn’t my church, isn’t my God.

My God lives in jails and detention centers,

in water bottles left in the desert,

and school teachers who work too much for too little.

My God is in parents who love their gay

and trans kids as reflections

of God’s own image.

My faith is the holiness of women, the life

in service for others.

My God is liberation.

She is the power of the storm

and the stillness of it when it’s over.

She is Brown laborers

rebuilding a city,

and the sweat of their foreheads

feeding their families.

But how can they believe me? When

sometimes I don’t even believe myself.

Maybe it’s time to be loud.

As loud as the annoying (and wrong) fetus

fanatics who are pro-life without

really being pro-living.

Maybe it’s time to let my faith breathe. Take

my pebble and let throw it

in the water.

Let it make ripples.


Let it make a fucking tsunami.

p.s.  Maria is the Southeast Michigan regional organizer for We the People Michigan. She immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico when she was nine years old and grew up Southwest Detroit and Dearborn. Maria has been fighting for immigrant justice for almost a decade, including grassroots organizing and political advocacy. She works closely with grassroots organizations to create alternative systems of immigrant-centered support and working to put people of color and women in positions of leadership. Maria graduated from the University of Detroit Mercy with a degree in English, and then went on to get a Masters of Social Work at the University of Michigan. On her free time Maria likes going for hikes, drinking expensive tea, and trying to publish her poetry.

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May 1 – Spring in Detroit, Spring in Maine

Today’s Post  –
“Almost mid-May, I watch the spring come slow-
ly day by day . . . ”

Traveling north-south, south-north during season-changing time lets trees and ground plants show their stuff to visitors.  Readers from Detroit, where I live this May morning,  will recognize how much farther “north” it is to mid-Maine.  Sometimes if we get lucky and have time, we can catch three or four spring-unfolding times with a little traveling.

Poet Rhonda Neshama Waller offers readers to her south a taste of what down here was weeks ago — “warm sun, after a week of rain, hail, snow.”   In Detroit, this year, spring lags a little; mostly May’s first ten days will top out in the low 60ºs; still our 1st tulips cooperate with daffodils to splash our courtyard with once-a-year fresh colors.   This morning, too, the tell-tale smell of fresh cut grace makes its presence known for this year’s first time.    Which part of spring in a northern place is more beautiful, this early delicate teasing or a head-spinning explosion of  leaves and a vast new presence of mature flowers everywhere?  “Yes.”

john sj

“Spring Comes to Maine” – Sonnet May 10

Almost mid-May, I watch the spring come slow-
ly day by day, pale lime-green moving up
from Sheepscot Valley towards my mountaintop,
up here the leaves still furled. Two eagles flew,
late afternoon, just past the east window.
Today, wild violets everywhere I step,
bright golden dandelions on the slope,
warm sun, after a week of rain, hail, snow.
Remembering to match my pace to this,
to note the details of each day’s new turn,
the distant hills still patched with lavender,
deep green of fir, the changing moments pass.
For dinner I’ll have buttered fiddlehead fern,
The daffodils are opening in the grass.

“Spring Comes to Maine” by Rhoda Neshama Waller. Presented here by poet submission.

Art credit: “Two adults from the local Bald Eagle family,” photograph taken August 19, 2012, near Pembroke, Maine (USA), perhaps.

April 30, 2019 courtyard in the Jesuit house – U Detroit Mercy

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April 29 – campus goodbyes after exams

Monday, April 29, 2019

“Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.”

Last year in early March, a friend emailed me some lines from Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Kindness.”  She  connects kinship and love with other things that wear us down.  In her poem, deep personal wounds become a context for enduring kindness.

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses, to allow the poet’s deep and careful language to make a place in your imagination and your memory.

john sj


Today’s Post  “Kindness”

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Naomi Shihab Nye

(b. March 12, 1952)

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April 26 – Joy Harjo won the 2019 Jackson Poetry Prize

Friday, April 26,
“. . . they begin in the ear and the eye,
they go on to live and hum inside the body . . . ”

Robin Bradford,  playwrite friend from San Francisco sent me word of Joy’s Jackson Poetry Prize this morning.   She led off her email with the words  “one of your faves.”  Surely true.  From the time that Joy and I met, student and teacher, 51 years ago until now she stands in my imagination as one immensely unanticipated surprise of grace.  Here’s a note from the Judges’ prize citation this week.

“Harjo’s work speaks not only to the world we live in, but to the unseen world that moves through us, the thread that has connected us all from the start…. Harjo’s poems embody a rich physicality and movement; they begin in the ear and the eye, they go on to live and hum inside the body…. Throughout her luminous and substantial body of work, there is a sense of timelessness, of ongoingness, of history repeating; these are poems that hold us up to the truth and insist we pay attention.”  From the judges’ prize citation.

And here is my most often cited and most deeply moving of her poems.   Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses, Absolutely!  Have a blest weekend.

john sj


Today’s Post:  “Grace”

Today’s Post  –  “Grace

I think of Wind and her wild ways the year we had nothing to lose and lost it anyway
in the cursed country of the fox. We still talk about that winter, how the cold froze
imaginary buffalo on the stuffed horizon of snowbanks.

The haunting voices of the starved and mutilated broke fences, crashed our thermostat
dreams, and we couldn’t stand it one more time.

So once again we lost a winter in stubborn memory, walked through cheap apartment
walls, skated through fields of ghosts into a town that never wanted us,
in the epic search for grace.

Like Coyote, like Rabbit, we could not contain our terror and clowned our way through a
season of false midnights.

We had to swallow that town with laughter, so it would go down easy as honey.

And one morning as the sun struggled to break ice, and our dreams had found us with
coffee and pancakes in a truck stop along Highway 80, we found grace.

I could say grace was a woman with time on her hands, or a white buffalo escaped from

memory. But in that dingy light it was a promise of balance.

We once again understood the talk of animals, and spring was lean and hungry with the
hope of children and corn.

I would like to say, with grace, we picked ourselves up and walked into the spring thaw.

We didn’t; the next season was worse.

You went home to Leech Lake to work with the tribe and I went south.

And, Wind, I am still crazy.

I know there is something larger than the memory of a dispossessed people. We have seen it.

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April 22 – days that look like Spring should feel – Gerard Manley Hopkins, s.j. “The Windhover”

A glimpse of spring from three years ago   —- >  leaves and flowers waking up

Posted Monday, April 18, 2016:
“Must be spring.  I checked’s allergy tracker this morning, a respiratory spring ritual for me and for many others.  Worth it, though.  Today’s dawn might be the seventh glorious morning in a row.  Campus trees and flowers begin to show their stuff.  Adults and children skip and laugh.    Yesterday, two girls (8 years old?) played among older people who have come to watch Detroit Mercy’s women’s softball team play Green Bay’s.  The girls, one African American, one Caucasian, ran and laughed with reckless abandon and filled our urban space with . . . . with Spring.”

A year ago on a similar morning the season’s sheer beauty led me to Gerard Manley Hopkins, s.j.   “The Windhover” helps the reader come alive as its beauty of word and sound match these days.  Even if it takes two or three readings to adapt your ear to his word play, it’s worth it.   Hopkins is  [in]famous for the packed meaning of his vocabulary.   His life-long friend Robert Bridges often ground his aesthetic teeth at what seemed to him to be GMH’s unnecessary complexity.   On November 6, 1887, Hopkins wrote Bridges, attempting to explain the density of his language.   Did GMH tease his frustrated Poet Laureate friend by creating a single sentence that never seems to run out of breath?

“Plainly if it is possible to express a subtle and recondite thought on a subtle and recondite subject in a subtle and recondite way and with great felicity and perfection in the end,  something must be sacrificed, with so trying a task, in the process, and this may be the being at once, nay perhaps even the being without explanation at all, intelligible.”   

Which is more wild and crazy challenging?  Hopkin’s masterpiece “Dapple dawn drawn falcon” or his tease to his friend?   If you find the time during this spring-sunshine 2019 Monday, test it out by trying to read both out loud, with pauses.

More sun than clouds or rain this week.   Have a blest Monday.

john sj


Today’s Post:   “The Windhover: To Christ our Lord”

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in
his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy!  then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl
and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,–the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valor and act, oh, air, pride, plume here
Buckle!  And the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it:  shéer plốd makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, a my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

Gerard Manley Hopkins
28 July 1844 – 8 June, 1889

Unusual Words in Windhover

Line 1 : minion – darling
Line 2 : dauphin – french for eldest son of the king
Line 4 : rung upon – to lead a horse in a circle on a long rein wimpling: rippling
Line 10 : buckle – either to fasten into one, or to collapse/crumble away.
Line 11 : chevalier – french for knight, champion
Line 12 : sillion – ridge between two furrows
Line 14 : gall – break the surface of.

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