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The Banks of Wye by Robert Bloomfield, Edited by Tim Fulford

The Banks of Wye; A Poem. In Four Books, 1811, 1813, 1823.  [1] 



Departure for Ragland.––Ragland Castle.––Abergavenny.––Expedition up the 'Pen-y-Vale,' or Sugar-Loaf Hill.––Invocation to the Spirit of Burns.––View from the Mountain.––Castle of Abergavenny.––Departure for Brecon.––Pembrokes of Crickhowel.––Tre-Tower Castle.––Jane Edwards.

PEACE to your white-wall'd cots, ye vales,
Untainted fly your summer gales; [2] 
Health, thou from cities lov'st to roam,
O make the Monmouth hills thy home!
Great spirits of her bards of yore,
While harvests triumph, torrents roar,
Train her young shepherds, train them high
To sing of mountain liberty:
Give them the harp and modest maid;
Give them the sacred village shade.
Long be Llandenny, and Llansoy,
Names that import a rural joy;
Known to our fathers, when May-day
Brush'd a whole twelvemonth's care away.
Oft on the lisping infant's tongue
Reluctant information hung, [3] 
Till, [4]  from a belt of woods full grown,
Arose immense thy turrets brown,
Majestic RAGLAND! Harvests wave
Where thund'ring hosts their watch-word gave,
When cavaliers, with downcast eye,
Struck the last flag of loyalty: [5] 
Then, left by gallant WORC'STER'S band,
To devastation's cruel hand
The beauteous fabric bow'd, fled all
The splendid hours of festival.
No smoke ascends; the busy hum
Is heard no more; no rolling drum,
No high-toned clarion sounds alarms,
No banner wakes the pride of arms; 30
But ivy, creeping year by year,
Of growth enormous, triumphs here. [6] 
Each dark festoon [7]  with pride upheaves
Its glossy wilderness of leaves
On sturdy limbs, that, clasping, bow
Broad o'er the turrets' utmost brow,
Encompassing, by strength alone,
In fret-work bars, the sliding stone,
That tells how years and storms prevail,
And spreads its dust upon the gale. 40
The man who could unmov'd [8]  survey
What ruin, piecemeal, sweeps away;
Works of the pow'rful and the brave,
All sleeping in the silent grave;
Unmov'd [9]  reflect, that here were sung
Carols of joy, by beauty's tongue,
Is fit, where'er he deigns to roam,
And hardly fit––to stay at home.
Spent here [10]  in peace, one [11]  solemn hour
'Midst [12]  legends of the YELLOW TOWER,
Truth and tradition's mingled stream,
Fear's start, and superstition's dream [13] 
Is pregnant with a thousand joys,
That distance, place, nor time destroys;
That with exhaustless stores supply
Food for reflection till we die.

ONWARD the rested steeds pursu'd [14] 
The cheerful route, with strength renew'd,
For onward lay the gallant town,
Whose name old custom hath clipp'd down,
With more of music left than many,
So handily to ABERGANY. [15] 
And as the sidelong, sober light
Left valleys darken'd, hills less bright,
Great BLORENGE rose to tell his tale;
And the dun peak of PEN-Y-VALE
Stood like a sentinel, whose brow
Scowl'd on the sleeping world below;
Yet even sleep itself outspread
The mountain paths we meant to tread,
'Midst fresh'ning gales all unconfin'd, [16] 
Where USK'S broad valley shrinks behind.

JOYOUS the crimson morning rose,
As joyous from the night's repose
Sprung the light heart. The glancing eye
Beheld, amidst the dappl'd [17]  sky,
Exulting PEN-Y-VALE. But how
Could females climb his gleaming brow,
Rude toil encount'ring? how defy
The wintry [18]  torrent's course, when dry,
A rough-scoop'd bed of stones? or meet
The powerful force of August heat?
Wheels might assist, could wheels be found
Adapted to the rugged ground:
'Twas done; for prudence bade us start
With three Welch [19]  ponies, and a cart;
A red-cheek'd mountaineer, a wit,
Full of rough shafts, that sometimes hit, [20] 
Trudg'd [21]  by their side, and twirl'd his thong,
And cheer'd his scrambling team along.
At ease to mark a scene so fair,
And treat their steeds with mountain air,
Some rode apart, or led before,
Rock after rock the wheels upbore;
The careful driver slowly sped,
To many a bough we duck'd the head,
And heard the wild inviting calls
Of summer's tinkling waterfalls,
In wooded glens below; and still,
At every step the sister hill,
BLORANGE, grew greater; half unseen
At times from out our bowers of green,
That telescopic landscapes made,
From the arch'd windows of its shade;
For woodland tracts begirt us round;
The vale beyond was fairy ground,
That verse can never paint. Above
Gleam'd, something [22]  like the mount of Jove,
(But [23]  how much, let the learned say,
Who take Olympus in their way)
Gleam'd the fair, sunny, cloudless peak
That simple strangers ever seek.
And are they simple? Hang the dunce
Who would not doff his cap at once
In extasy, when, bold and new,
Bursts on his sight a mountain-view.
Though vast the prospect here became,
Intensely as the love of fame
Glow'd the strong hope, that strange desire,
That deathless wish of climbing higher, 120
Where heather clothes his graceful sides,
Which many a scatter'd rock divides,
Bleach'd by more years than hist'ry knows,
Mov'd [24]  by no power but melting snows,
Or gushing springs, that wash away
Th' embedded earth that forms their stay.
The heart distends, the whole frame feels,
Where, inaccessible to wheels,
The utmost storm-worn summit spreads
Its rocks grotesque, its downy beds;
Here no false feeling [25]  sense belies,
Man lifts the weary foot, and sighs;
Laughter is dumb; hilarity
Forsakes at once th' astonish'd eye;
E'en the clos'd [26]  lip, half useless grown,
Drops but a word, 'Look down; look down.'
GOOD Heav'ns! must scenes like these expand,
Scenes so magnificently grand,
And millions breathe, and pass away,
Unbless'd, [27]  throughout their little day,
With one short glimpse? By place confin'd [28] ,
Shall many an anxious [29]  ardent mind,
Sworn to the Muses, cow'r [30]  its pride,
Doom'd but to sing with pinions tied?

SPIRIT of BURNS! the daring child
Of glorious freedom, rough and wild,
How have I wept o'er all thy ills,
How blest thy Caledonian hills!
How almost worshipp'd in my dreams
Thy mountain haunts,––thy classic streams!
How burnt with hopeless, aimless fire,
To mark thy giant strength aspire
In patriot themes! and tun'd [31]  the while
Thy 'Bonny Doon,' [32]  or 'Balloch Mile.' [33] 

Then pride might climb the slipp'ry steep,
Where fame and honours lofty shine.
And thirst of gold might tempt the deep,
Or downward seek the Indian mine!
Give me the cot below the pine,
To tend the flocks or till the soil,
And ev'ry day have joys divine
With the bonie lass o' Ballochmyle.

Spirit of BURNS! accept the tear
That rapture gives thy mem'ry here
On the bleak mountain top. Here thou
Thyself had rais'd [34]  the gallant brow
Of conscious intellect, to twine
Th' imperishable verse of thine,
That charm'st [35]  the world. Or can it be,
That scenes like these were nought to thee?
That Scottish hills so far excel,
That so deep sinks the Scottish dell,
That boasted PEN-Y-VALE had been,
For thy loud northern lyre too mean;
Broad-shoulder'd BLORANGE a mere knoll,
And SKYRID, let him smile or scowl,
A dwarfish bully, vainly proud,
Because he breaks the passing cloud?
If even so, thou bard of fame,
The consequences rest the same:
For, grant that to thy infant sight
Rose mountains of stupendous height;
Or grant that Cambrian minstrels taught
'Mid scenes that mock the lowland thought;
Grant that old TALLIESSIN flung
His thousand raptures, as he sung
From huge PLYNLIMON'S awful brow,
Or CADER IDRIS, capt with snow;
Such Alpine scenes with them or thee
Well suited.––These are Alps to me.

LONG did we, noble BLORENGE, [36]  gaze
On thee, and mark the eddying haze
That strove to reach thy level crown,
From the rich stream, and smoking town;
And oft, old SKYRID, hail'd thy name,
Nor dar'd [37]  deride thy holy fame. [38] 
Long follow'd with untiring eye
Th' illumin'd [39]  clouds, that o'er the sky
Drew their thin veil, and slowly sped,
Dipping to every mountain's head,
Dark-mingling, [40]  fading, wild, and thence,
Till admiration, in suspense,
Hung on the verge of sight. Then sprung,
By thousands known, by thousands sung,
Feelings that earth and time defy,
That cleave to immortality.
A light gray haze inclosed us round;
Some momentary drops were found,
Borne on the breeze; soon all dispell'd;
Once more the glorious prospect swell'd
Interminably fair. Again
Stretch'd the BLACK MOUNTAIN'S dreary chain!
When eastward turn'd the straining eye,
Great MALVERN met the cloudless sky: [41] 
Southward arose th' embattled shores, [42] 
Where Ocean in his fury roars,
And rolls abrupt his fearful tides,
Far still from MENDIP'S fern-clad sides; 210
From whose vast range of mingling blue, [43] 
The weary, wand'ring sight withdrew,
O'er fair GLAMORGAN'S woods and downs,
O'er glitt'ring streams, and farms, and towns,
Back to the TABLE ROCK, that lours [44] 
O'er old CRICKHOWEL'S ruin'd towers.
Here perfect stillness reign'd. The breath
A moment hush'd, 'twas mimic death.
The ear, from all assaults released,
As motion, sound, and life, had ceased.
The beetle rarely murmur'd by,
No sheep-dog sent his voice so high,
Save when, by chance, far down the steep,
Crept a live speck, a straggling sheep;
Yet one lone object, plainly seen,
Curv'd [45]  slowly, in a line of green,
On the brown heath: no demon fell,
No wizard foe, with magic spell,
To chain the senses, chill the heart,
No wizard guided POWEL'S cart;
He of our nectar had the care,
All our ambrosia rested there.
At leisure, but reluctant still,
We join'd him by a mountain rill;
And there, on springing turf, all seated,
Jove's guests were never half so treated;
Journies they had, and feastings many,
But never came to ABERGANY;
Lucky escape:––the wrangling crew,
Mischief to cherish or to brew, 240
Was all their sport: [46]  and when, in rage,
They chose 'midst warriors to engage,
'Our chariots of fire,' [47]  they cried,
And dash'd th' gates of heaven [48]  aside,
Whirl'd through the air, and foremost stood
'Midst mortal passions, mortal blood, [49] 
Celestial power with earthly mix'd; [50] 
Gods by the arrow's point transfix'd!
Beneath us frown'd no deadly war,
And POWEL'S wheels were safer far;
As on them, without flame or shield,
Or bow to twang, or lance to wield,
We left the heights of inspiration,
And relish'd a mere mortal station;
Our object, not to fire a town,
Or aid a chief, or knock him down;
But safe to sleep, from war and sorrow,
And drive to BRECKNOCK on the morrow.

HEAVY and low'ring, crouds on crouds, [51] 
Drove adverse hosts of dark'ning clouds
Low o'er the vale, and far away,
Deep gloom o'erspread the rising day;
No morning beauties caught the eye,
O'er mountain top, or stream, or sky,
As round the castle's ruin'd tower
We mus'd [52]  for many a solemn hour;
And, half-dejected, half in spleen,
Computed idly, o'er the scene,
How many murders there had dy'd
Chiefs and their minions, slaves of pride; 270
When perjury, in every breath,
Pluck'd the huge falchion from its sheath,
And prompted deeds of ghastly fame,
That hist'ry's self might blush to name. [53] 
At length, through each retreating shower,
Burst, with a renovating power,
Light, life, and gladness; instant fled
All contemplations on the dead.
Who hath not mark'd, with inward joy,
The efforts of the diving boy;
And, waiting while he disappear'd,
Exulted, trembled, hop'd, [54]  and fear'd?
Then felt his heart, 'midst cheering cries,
Bound with delight to see him rise?
Who hath not burnt with rage, to see
Falsehood's vile cant, and supple knee;
Then hail'd, on some courageous brow,
The power that works her overthrow;
That, swift as lightning, seals her doom,
With, 'Miscreant! [55]  vanish!––truth is come?'
So PEN-Y-VALE upheav'd [56]  his brow,
And left the world of fog below;
So SKYRID, smiling, broke his way
To glories of the conqu'ring day;
With matchless grace, and giant pride,
So BLORENGE turn'd the clouds aside,
And warn'd us, not a whit too soon,
To chase the flying car of noon,
Where herds and flocks unnumber'd fed,
Where USK her wand'ring mazes led.
Here on the mind, with powerful sway,
Press'd the bright joys of yesterday;
For still, though doom'd no more t'inhale
The mountain air of PEN-Y-VALE,
His broad dark-skirting woods o'erhung
Cottage and farm, where careless sung
The labourer, where the gazing steer
Low'd to the mountains, deep and clear.

SLOW less'ning BLORENGE, left behind,
Reluctantly his claims resign'd,
And stretch'd his glowing front entire,
As forward peep'd CRICKHOWEL spire;
But no proud castle's turrets gleam'd;
No warrior Earl's gay banner stream'd; [57] 
E'en of thy palace, grief to tell! [58] 
A tower without [59]  a dinner bell;
An arch where [60]  jav'lin'd sentries bow'd
Low to their chief, or fed the croud, [61] 
Are all that mark where once a train
Of barons grac'd [62]  thy rich domain,
Illustrious PEMBROKE! [63]  drain'd thy bowl,
And caught the nobleness of soul [64] 
The harp-inspir'd, [65]  indignant blood
That prompts to arms and hardihood.
To muse upon the days gone by,
Where desolation meets the eye,
Is double life; [66]  truth, cheaply bought,
The nurse of sense, the food of thought,
Whence judgment, ripen'd, forms, at will,
Her estimates of good or ill;
And brings contrasted scenes to view,
And weighs the old rogues with the new;
Imperious tyrants, gone to dust,
With tyrants whom the world hath curs'd [67] 
Through modern ages. By [68]  what power
Rose the strong walls of old TRE TOWER? [69] 
Deep in the valley; whose clear rill
Then stole through wilds, and wanders still
Through village shades, unstain'd with gore
Where war-steeds bathe their hoofs no more. [70]  340
Empires have fallen, armies bled,
Since yon old wall, with upright head,
Met the loud tempest; who can trace
When first the rude mass, from its base,
Stoop'd in that dreadful form? E'en thou,
JANE, with the placid silver brow,
Know'st not the day, though thou hast seen
A hundred [71]  springs of cheerful green,
A hundred winters' snows increase
That brook, the [72]  emblem of thy peace. 350
Most venerable dame! and shall
The plund'rer, in his gorgeous hall,
His fame, [73]  with Moloch-frown prefer,
And scorn thy harmless character? [74] 
Who scarcely hear'st of his renown,
And never sack'd or burnt a town?
But should he crave, with coward cries,
To be Jane Edwards when he dies,
Thou'lt [75]  be the CONQUEROR, old lass,
So take thy alms, and let us pass.
FORTH, from the calm sequester'd shade,
Once more approaching twilight, bade;
When, as the sigh of joy arose,
And while e'en fancy sought repose,
One vast transcendant object sprung,
Arresting every eye and tongue.
Strangers, fair BRECON, [76]  wondering, scan
The peaks of thy stupendous Vann:
But how can strangers, chain'd by time,
Through floating clouds his summit climb?
Another day had almost fled;
A clear horizon, glowing red,
Its promise on all hearts impress'd,
Bright sunny hours, and Sabbath rest.



[1] The text of the first edition of The Banks of Wye; A Poem. In Four Books (London: Vernor, Hood & Sharpe, 1811), collated with the corrected second edition (London, B. & R. Crosby & Co., 1813) and the third edition (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Co., 1823). BACK

[2] gales;] gales: 1823 BACK

[3] Oft on the lisping infant's tongue / Reluctant information hung,] Far diff'rent joys possess'd the mind, / When Chepstow fading sunk behind, 1813, 1823 BACK

[4] Till] And 1813, 1823 BACK

[5] This castle, with a garrison commanded by the Marquis of Worcester, was the last place of strength which held out for the unfortunate Charles the First [Bloomfield's note]. BACK

[6] 'These magnificent ruins, including the citadel, occupy a tract of ground not less than one-third of a mile in circumference.'

'In addition to the injury the castle sustained from the parliamentary army, considerable dilapidations have been occasioned by the numerous tenants in the vicinity, who conveyed away the stone and other materials for the construction of farm-houses, barns, and other buildings. No less than twenty-three staircases were taken down by these devastators; but the present Duke of Beaufort no sooner succeeded to his estate than he instantly gave orders that not a stone should be moved from its situation, and thus preserved these noble ruins from destruction.' History of Monmouthshire, page 148. [Bloomfield's note, quoting William Coxe, An Historical Tour in Monmouthshire: Illustrated with views by Sir R. C. Hoare, Bart. A New Map of the County, and other Engravings (London, 1801), p. 148].


[7] festoon] festoon, 1813 BACK

[8] unmov'd] unmoved 1823 BACK

[9] Unmov'd] unmoved 1823 BACK

[10] here] here 1813, 1823 BACK

[11] in peace, one] in peace,––one 1813, 1823 BACK

[12] 'Midst] ('Midst 1813, 1823 BACK

[13] dream] dream) 1813 ] A village woman, who very officiously pointed out all that she knew respecting the former state of the castle, desired us to remark the descent to a vault, apparently of large dimensions, in which she had heard that no candle would continue burning; 'and,' added she, 'they say it is because of the damps; but for my part, I think the devil is there' [Bloomfield's note]. BACK

[14] pursu'd] pursued 1823 BACK


[16] unconfin'd] unconfined 1823 BACK

[17] dappl'd] dappled 1823 BACK

[18] wintry] wint'ry 1823 BACK

[19] Welch] Welsh 1823 BACK

[20] The driver, Powell, I believe, occupied a cottage, or small farm, which we past during the ascent, and where goats [goats' 1813, 1823] milk was offered for refreshment [Bloomfield's note]. BACK

[21] Trudg'd] Trudged 1823 BACK

[22] something] (something 1813, 1823 BACK

[23] (But] But 1823 BACK

[24] Mov'd] Moved 1823 BACK

[25] feeling] feeling, 1813, 1823 BACK

[26] clos'd] closed 1823 BACK

[27] Unbless'd,] Unbless'd 1813, 1823 BACK

[28] confin'd] confined 1823 BACK

[29] anxious] anxious, 1823 BACK

[30] cow'r] cower 1823 BACK

[31] tun'd] tuned 1823 BACK

[32] Doon,] DoonBACK

[33] Burns, 'Ye banks and braes o' bonnie Doon' (1791):

Ye banks and braes o' bonnie Doon,
How can ye blume sae fair!
How can ye chant, ye little birds,
And I sae fu' o' care!

Thou'll break my heart, thou bonnie bird
That sings upon the bough;
Thou minds me o' the happy days
When my fause Love was true.

Thou'll break my heart, thou bonnie bird
That sings beside thy mate;
For sae I sat, and sae I sang,
And wist na o' my fate.

Aft hae I roved by bonnie Doon
To see the woodbine twine,
And ilka bird sang o' its love;
And sae did I o' mine.

Wi' lightsome heart I pu'd a rose,
Frae aff its thorny tree;
And my fause lover staw the rose,
But left the thorn wi' me.

'The Bonie lass of Ballochmyle' (1786):
'Twas even: the dewy fields were green,
On every blade the pearls hang,
The zephyr wanton'd round the bean,
And bore its fragrant sweets alang,
In ev'ry glen the mavis sang,
All Nature list'ning seem'd the while,
Except where greenwood echoes rang
Amang the braes o' Ballochmyle.

With careless step I onward stray'd,
My heart rejoic'd in Nature's joy,
When musing in a lonely glade,
A maiden fair I chanc'd to spy.
Her look was like the Morning's eye,
Her air like Nature's vernal smile.
Perfection whisper'd, passing by:-
'Behold the lass o' Ballochmyle!'

Fair is the morn in flowery May,
And sweet is night in autumn mild,
When roving thro' the garden gay,
Or wand'ring in the lonely wild;
But women, Nature's darling child -
There all her charms she does compile!
Even there her other works are foil'd
By the bonie lass o' Ballochmyle.

O, had she been a country maid,
And I the happy country swain,
Tho' shelter'd in the lowest shed
That ever rose on Scotia's plain,
Thro' weary winter's wind and rain
With joy, with rapture, I would toil,
And nightly to my bosom strain
The bonie lass o' Ballochmyle!


[34] had rais'd] hadst raised 1823 BACK

[35] charm'st] charms 1813, 1823 BACK

[36] The respective heights of these mountains above the mouth of the Gavany were taken barometrically by Gen. Roy. Feet. The summit of the Sugar-Loaf………… 1852 Of the Blorenge………………………… 1720 Of the Skyrid…………………………… 1498 [Bloomfield's note, referring to William Roy (1726-90), who surveyed the Scottish Highlands and then southern England to create military maps. Roy was an advocate of the complete triangulation of Britain, laying the foundations for the Ordnance Survey mapping of the whole country]. BACK

[37] dar'd] dared 1823 BACK

[38] There still remains, on the summit of the Skyrid, or St. Michael's Mount, the foundation of an ancient chapel, to which the inhabitants formerly ascended on Michaelmas Eve, in a kind of pilgrimage. A prodigious cleft, or separation in the hill, tradition says, was caused by the earthquake at the crucifixion; it was therefore termed the Holy Mountain [Bloomfield's note]. BACK

[39] illumin'd] illumined 1823 BACK

[40] Dark-mingling] Dark mingling 1813, 1823 BACK

[41] This hill commands a view of the counties of Radnor, Salop, Brecknock, Glamorgan, Hereford, Worcester, Gloucester, Somerset, and Wilts. [Bloomfield's note]. BACK

[42] Southward arose th' embattled shores,] Dark in the south uprose the shores 1813, 1823 BACK

[43] blue,] blue 1823 BACK

[44] lours] lowers 1813, 1823 BACK

[45] Curv'd] Curved 1823 BACK

[46] sport:] sport; 1823 BACK

[47] 'Our chariots of fire,'] Loud for their fiery steeds 1813, 1823 [see Ezekiel 1:1-28]. BACK

[48] gates of heaven] opposing clouds 1813, 1823 BACK

[49] blood,] blood! 1823 BACK

[50] Celestial power with earthly mix'd; / Gods by the arrow's point transfix'd] omit 1813, 1823 BACK

[51] crouds on crouds] crowds on crowds 1823 BACK

[52] mus'd] mused 1823 BACK

[53] In Jones's History of Brecknockshire, the castle of Abergavenny is noticed as having been the scene of the most shocking enormities. [Bloomfield's note, referring to events of the twelfth century. In 1175 the Norman lord William de Braose murdered Seisyllt ap Dyfnwal, lord of the neighbouring Welsh Castell Arnallt. In retaliation the Welsh lord of Caerleon, Hywel ap Iorwerth, burnt Abergavenny castle in 1182. Bloomfield's source is Theophilus Jones, A History of the County of Brecknock, 2 vols (Brecon, 1805-09)]. BACK

[54] hop'd] hoped 1823 BACK

[55] With, 'Miscreant!] 'Hence, miscreant! 1813, 1823 BACK

[56] upheav'd] upheaved 1823 BACK

[57] stream'd] stream'd. 1813; streamed 1823 BACK

[58] grief to tell!] (grief to tell!) 1813, 1823 BACK

[59] A tower without] A tower––without 1813, 1823 BACK

[60] An arch where] An arch––where 1813, 1823 BACK

[61] croud] crowd 1823 BACK

[62] barons grac'd] Barons grac'd 1813; Barons graced 1823 BACK

[63] Part of the original palace of the powerful Earls of Pembroke is still undemolished by time [Bloomfield's note]. BACK

[64] soul] soul–– 1813, 1823 BACK

[65] harp-inspir'd] harp-inspired 1823 BACK

[66] life;] life: 1823 BACK

[67] curs'd] cursed 1823 BACK

[68] Ages. By] Ages.––By 1813, 1823 BACK

[69] TRE TOWER?] TRE TOWER 1813, 1823 BACK

[70] more.] more? 1813 BACK

[71] Jane Edwards, or as she pronounced it, Etwarts, a tall, bony, upright woman, leaning both hands on the head of her stick, and in her manners venerably impressive, was then at the age of one hundred. She was living in 1809, then one hundred and two [Bloomfield's note]. BACK

[72] brook, the] brook,––the 1813, 1823 BACK

[73] fame,] fame 1823 BACK

[74] character?] character, 1823 BACK

[75] Thou'lt] Thou'lt 1813, 1823 BACK

[76] fair BRECON,] (fair BRECON,) 1813, 1823 BACK

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Published @ RC

July 2012