10 Most Famous Poems By Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936) was an English author who wrote some of the most well known short stories, novels and poems. He worked in India for seven years from 1882 to 1889, and the influence of his time in the east can be seen in many of his works. Kipling’s clarity of style, his use of colloquial language, and the way in which he used rhythm and rhyme, are considered major innovations in poetry and went on to have an influence on following generations of poets. However, he is also known for his support of British imperialism and several of his works are seen as being emblematic of Eurocentric racism. In 1907, Rudyard Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature at the age of 42, making him the youngest person to receive the award. Know about the poetry of Kipling through his 10 most famous poems.

#10 My Boy Jack



“Have you news of my boy Jack? ”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind—
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!


The Battle of Jutland was fought in 1916 during the First World War between the British Royal Navy and the Imperial German Navy. This poem was included as a prelude to a story in Kipling’s book Sea Warfare about the Battle of Jutland. In it, Kipling uses the imagery of the sea and nature to explore the grief felt by a parent due to the loss of a child in wartime. My Boy Jack promotes patriotism and stoic bravery in the face of death; and it became one of the most popular of the war-verses. There is speculation whether the poem is related to the death of Rudyard’s son John Kipling at the Battle of Loos in 1915; but most consider this to be improbable.

#9 Gunga Din



You may talk o’ gin and beer   
When you’re quartered safe out ’ere,   
An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’ Aldershot it;
But when it comes to slaughter   
You will do your work on water,
An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of ’im that’s got it.   
Now in Injia’s sunny clime,   
Where I used to spend my time   
A-servin’ of ’Er Majesty the Queen,   
Of all them blackfaced crew   
The finest man I knew
Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din,   
      He was ‘Din! Din! Din!
   ‘You limpin’ lump o’ brick-dust, Gunga Din!
      ‘Hi! Slippy hitherao
      ‘Water, get it! Panee lao,
   ‘You squidgy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din.’

The uniform ’e wore
Was nothin’ much before,
An’ rather less than ’arf o’ that be’ind,
For a piece o’ twisty rag   
An’ a goatskin water-bag
Was all the field-equipment ’e could find.
When the sweatin’ troop-train lay
In a sidin’ through the day,
Where the ’eat would make your bloomin’ eyebrows crawl,
We shouted ‘Harry By!’
Till our throats were bricky-dry,
Then we wopped ’im ’cause ’e couldn’t serve us all.
      It was ‘Din! Din! Din!
   ‘You ’eathen, where the mischief ’ave you been?   
      ‘You put some juldee in it
      ‘Or I’ll marrow you this minute
   ‘If you don’t fill up my helmet, Gunga Din!’

’E would dot an’ carry one
Till the longest day was done;
An’ ’e didn’t seem to know the use o’ fear.
If we charged or broke or cut,
You could bet your bloomin’ nut,
’E’d be waitin’ fifty paces right flank rear.   
With ’is mussick on ’is back,
’E would skip with our attack,
An’ watch us till the bugles made 'Retire,’   
An’ for all ’is dirty ’ide
’E was white, clear white, inside
When ’e went to tend the wounded under fire!   
      It was ‘Din! Din! Din!’
   With the bullets kickin’ dust-spots on the green.   
      When the cartridges ran out,
      You could hear the front-ranks shout,   
   ‘Hi! ammunition-mules an' Gunga Din!’

I shan’t forgit the night
When I dropped be’ind the fight
With a bullet where my belt-plate should ’a’ been.   
I was chokin’ mad with thirst,
An’ the man that spied me first
Was our good old grinnin’, gruntin’ Gunga Din.   
’E lifted up my ’ead,
An’ he plugged me where I bled,
An’ ’e guv me ’arf-a-pint o’ water green.
It was crawlin’ and it stunk,
But of all the drinks I’ve drunk,
I’m gratefullest to one from Gunga Din.
      It was 'Din! Din! Din!
   ‘’Ere’s a beggar with a bullet through ’is spleen;   
   ‘’E's chawin’ up the ground,
      ‘An’ ’e’s kickin’ all around:
   ‘For Gawd’s sake git the water, Gunga Din!’

’E carried me away
To where a dooli lay,
An’ a bullet come an’ drilled the beggar clean.   
’E put me safe inside,
An’ just before ’e died,
'I ’ope you liked your drink,’ sez Gunga Din.   
So I’ll meet ’im later on
At the place where ’e is gone—
Where it’s always double drill and no canteen.   
’E’ll be squattin’ on the coals
Givin’ drink to poor damned souls,
An’ I’ll get a swig in hell from Gunga Din!   
      Yes, Din! Din! Din!
   You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!   
   Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,   
      By the livin’ Gawd that made you,
   You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!


This poem is written from the point of view of a British soldier in India at a time when India was ruled by the British Empire. Gunga Din, the titular character of the poem, is an Indian water-carrier of a British regiment. The soldier considers the European colonizers as superior and the native people of India as inferior. He and his fellow comrades frequently mistreat Gunga Din threatening and abusing him. During a fight between the British and the Indian natives, Gunga Din saves the narrator’s life but is shot and killed himself. In the final three lines of the poem, the soldier regrets the abuse he dealt to Din and admits that Din is the better man of the two. Gunga Din is one of Kipling’s most famous poems and it inspired a 1939 Hollywood film with the same title.

#8 Mandalay



By the  old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' lazy at the sea,
There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
"Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay! "
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can't you 'ear their paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay ?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay! 

'Er petticoat was yaller an' 'er little cap was green,
An' 'er name was Supi-yaw-lat - jes' the same as Theebaw's Queen, 
An' I seed her first a-smokin' of a whackin' white cheroot,
An' a-wastin' Christian kisses on an 'eathen idol's foot:
Bloomin' idol made o' mud 
Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd
Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed 'er where she stud!
On the road to Mandalay...

When the mist was on the rice-fields an' the sun was droppin' slow,
She'd git 'er little banjo an' she'd sing "Kulla-lo-lo!
With 'er arm upon my shoulder an' 'er cheek agin my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an' the hathis pilin' teak.
Elephints a-pilin' teak
In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
Where the silence 'ung that 'eavy you was 'arf afraid to speak!
On the road to Mandalay...

But that's all shove be'ind me - long ago an' fur away 
An' there ain't no 'busses runnin' from the Bank to Mandalay;
An' I'm learnin' 'ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
"If you've 'eard the East a-callin', you won't never 'eed naught else."
No! you won't 'eed nothin' else
But them spicy garlic smells,
An' the sunshine an' the palm-trees an' the tinkly temple-bells;
On the road to Mandalay... 

I am sick o' wastin' leather on these gritty pavin'-stones,
An' the blasted English drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Tho' I walks with fifty 'ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An' they talks a lot o' lovin', but wot do they understand?
Beefy face an' grubby 'and - 
Law! wot do they understand?
I've a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
On the road to Mandalay...

Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren't no Ten Commandments an' a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin', an' it's there that I would be
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
O the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay !


Rudyard Kipling worked in India for seven years from 1882 to 1889. This poem was written in 1890, a year after he had returned to England. The Mandalay referred to in the poem was the last royal capital of Myanmar (Burma) and is currently the second-largest city in the country. It was a part of British India at the time. The poem Mandalay is inspired by Kipling’s visit to Burma on his way home to England. In it, a soldier of the British Empire, now discharged and back in London, looks back with nostalgia and longing at his life in Burma and Asia’s exoticism in comparison to the cold, damp and foggy climates; and the social disciplines and conventions of UK and Northern Europe.

#7 Tommy



I went into a public 'ouse to get a pint o' beer, 
The publican 'e up an' sez, " We serve no red-coats here." 
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die, 
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I: 
O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' " Tommy, go away " ; 
But it's " Thank you, Mister Atkins," when the band begins to play
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play, 
O it's " Thank you, Mister Atkins," when the band begins to play.  

I went into a theatre as sober as could be, 
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me; 
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls, 
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls! 
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' " Tommy, wait outside ";
But it's " Special train for Atkins " when the trooper's on the tide
The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide, 
O it's " Special train for Atkins " when the trooper's on the tide.  

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap. 
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit. 
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an` Tommy, 'ow's yer soul? "
But it's " Thin red line of 'eroes " when the drums begin to roll
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll, 
O it's " Thin red line of 'eroes, " when the drums begin to roll. 

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too, 
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you; 
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints, 
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints; 
While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an` Tommy, fall be'ind," 
But it's " Please to walk in front, sir," when there's trouble in the wind
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind, 
O it's " Please to walk in front, sir," when there's trouble in the wind. 

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all: 
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational. 
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace. 
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an` Chuck him out, the brute! "
But it's " Saviour of 'is country " when the guns begin to shoot; 
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please; 
An 'Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool - you bet that Tommy sees!


The narrator of this poem is Tommy Atkins, a generic slang name for a common British soldier. He talks about the respectful way he is treated when he is needed to fight in a war and presents the stark contrast of the poor treatment he receives when he is not required to fight. Tommy rejects this duality stating that he and his fellow soldiers are neither the “heroes” they are made out to be during war; and neither the “blackguards” they are perceived as in peacetime. Tommy was an influential poem; and it raised public awareness and debate in Britain about the need for a change in attitude of the public regarding their treatment of British soldiers.

#6 Recessional



God of our fathers, known of old,
   Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
   Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
   The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
   An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
   On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
   Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
   Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
   Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
   In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
   And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!


This poem was written for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, which celebrated 60 years of her reign. The British Empire held tremendous power at the time and the occasion led to a great deal of boasting about the strength and greatness of the empire. Kipling’s poem, which contains five stanzas of six lines each, went against the celebratory mood of the time. It instead argued against jingoism; warned about the impermanent nature of all empires; and emphasized that worldly accomplishments were nothing in comparison to the eternal nature of God. A recessional is a hymn or piece of music and this poem follows the tradition of the English hymn.

#5 Six Honest Serving Men



I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When 
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.

I let them rest from nine till five,
For I am busy then,
As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea,
For they are hungry men.
But different folk have different views; 
I know a person small—
She keeps ten million serving-men,
Who get no rest at all!

She sends’em abroad on her own affairs,
 From the second she opens her eyes—
One million Hows, two million Wheres,
And seven million Whys!


This poem follows Kipling’s well known story The Elephant’s Child, which narrates the tale of a little elephant with insatiable curiosity. The speaker of the poem begins by saying that he keeps six honest serving men: “What and Why and When And How and Where and Who”. He says that he gives them rest but knows a small person who “keeps ten million serving-men, who get no rest at all!” The poem is usually interpreted as stressing on the importance of inquisitiveness; and how it varies among adults and children. The six honest serving men of the poem have been influential in journalism, where they are known as the five Ws and an H. Students in the field are recommended to know how to make Kipling’s six honest men work for them. Kipling’s men are also used in marketing as a problem solving tool to analyse what customers want.

#4 The Gods of the Copybook Headings



As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all. 

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind. 

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome. 

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things. 

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."  

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."  

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all, 
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul; 
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy, 
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."  

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more. 

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began. 
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire, 
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire; 

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins, 
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn, 
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!


Rarely used now, a copybook is an exercise book to practice a language. At the top of its pages is a copybook heading, such as a short proverb, and the rest of the page is blank except for horizontal rulings. The student is expected to copy the heading on the lines below for practice. The title of this work refers to the copybook headings at the time which praised virtues such as honesty or fair dealing. Kipling’s poem is built on a series of sayings, well-known to British and American readers. It focuses on “age-old, unfashionable wisdom” that he saw as having been forgotten by society. The Gods of the Copybook Headings remains among Kipling’s most popular poems.

#3 The Ballad of East and West



Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth! 

Kamal is out with twenty men to raise the Border side,
And he has lifted the Colonel's mare that is the Colonel's pride.
He has lifted her out of the stable-door between the dawn and day
And turned the calkins upon her feet, and ridden her far away.

Then up and spoke the Colonel's son that led a troop of the Guides
Is there never a man of all my men can say where Kamal hides? "
Then up and spoke Mohammed Khan, the son of the Ressaldar:
"If ye know the track of the morning-mist, ye know where his pickets are.
"At dusk he harries the Abazai - at dawn he is into Bonair,
"But he must go by Fort Bukloh to his own place to fare.
"So if ye gallop to Fort Bukloh as fast as a bird can fly,
"By the favour of God ye may cut him off ere he win to the Tongue of Jagai.
"But if he be past the Tongue of Jagai, right swiftly turn ye then,
"For the length and the breadth of that grisly plain is sown with Kamal's men.
"There is rock to the left, and rock to the right, and low lean thorn between,
"And ye may hear a breech-bolt snick where never a man is seen."

Read Full Poem Here


In this ballad, an Afghan chieftain named Kamal raids into British territory and during the raid steals the mare of the colonel. The Colonel’s son follows him into enemy territory whereupon Kamal knocks his pistol out of his hand and reveals that the colonel’s son and his men have all along been surrounded by Kamal’s men. The Colonel’s son, however, defiantly responds by promising vengeance. His jesting defiance wins over Kamal and he gives back the mare. The colonel’s son gives Kamal his pistols in return and Kamal tells his only son to be the guide of the Englishmen. The Ballad of East and West was a huge success on its release and it continues to be popular. The opening lines of the ballad are especially renowned. They are also often quoted to ascribe racism to Kipling though there is little in this poem that suggests that.

#2 The White Man’s Burden



Take up the White Man's burden - 
    Send forth the best ye breed - 
Go bind your sons to exile
    To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness
    On fluttered folk and wild -
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
    Half devil and half child. 

Take up the White Man's burden - 
    In patience to abide
To veil the threat of terror
    And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
    An hundred times made plain,
To seek another's profit,
    And work another's gain. 

Take up the White Man's burden -
    The savage wars of peace -
Fill full the mouth of famine
    And bid the sickness cease; 
And when your goal is nearest
    The end for others sought,
Watch Sloth and heathen Folly
    Bring all your hopes to nought.

Take up the White Man's burden -
    No tawdry rule of kings, 
But toil of serf and sweeper - 
    The tale of common things. 
The ports ye shall not enter, 
    The roads ye shall not tread, 
Go make them with your living, 
    And mark them with your dead ! 

Take up the White Man's burden -
    And reap his old reward, 
The blame of those ye better, 
    The hate of those ye guard - 
The cry of hosts ye humour 
    (Ah slowly !) towards the light:- 
"Why brought ye us from bondage, 
    "Our loved Egyptian night ?" 

Take up the White Man's burden -
    Ye dare not stoop to less - 
Nor call too loud on Freedom 
    To cloak your weariness; 
By all ye cry or whisper, 
    By all ye leave or do, 
The silent sullen peoples 
    Shall weigh your Gods and you. 

Take up the White Man's burden -
    Have done with childish days - 
The lightly proffered laurel, 
    The easy, ungrudged praise. 
Comes now, to search your manhood 
    Through all the thankless years, 
Cold-edged with dear-bought wisdom, 
    The judgement of your peers. 


In 1898, United States went to war against Spain on the pretext that it wanted to liberate Cuba from Spanish control. However, after winning the war it was awarded Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. This departed from America’s policy of isolationism and made it an imperialist country. Kipling’s poem was written to address the American colonization of the Philippine Islands. It justified imperialism as a noble enterprise; assigned superiority to the white race and presented the other races as inferior; and proposed that the white man had the moral obligation to civilize the rest of the world. The uncivilized nonwhites are thus the “White Man’s Burden”. The White Man’s Burden is one of the most controversial poems ever written. There are several works which counter it and present the actual facts about colonization. The poem is often cited as the most solid evidence to establish that Rudyard Kipling was a racist and a prophet of imperialism.

#1 If—



If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!


By far the most famous poem of Rudyard Kipling, If—, presents a set of situations and the ideal behaviour a person should adopt when he encounters them. It acclaims Victorian-era stoicism and displaying fortitude in the face of adversity. The person Kipling had in mind while writing this verse was his friend Sir Leander Starr Jameson, who incidentally was betrayed and imprisoned by the British Government. The poem doesn’t have a physical setting but is often seen as a father giving the most valuable lesson of life to his son. The lines of the poem are hugely popular; and the third and fourth lines of its second stanza are written on the wall of the players’ entrance to the Centre Court of the Wimbledon Championship. If— is one of the most well-known poems in the English language and it was voted the favourite poem of Britain in a 1995 BBC poll.

3 thoughts on “10 Most Famous Poems By Rudyard Kipling”

  1. Where are :

    There are no flowers on a sailor’s grave, for sailors are buried beneath the waves!

    It not good for the Christians health, to hustle the Asian brown, for the Christian riles and the Asian smiles, and he wearith the Christian down!

    God and the soldier all people adore, in time of war but not before. When war is over and all is righted, God is forgot and the soldier slighted.

    These are the poems I remember and would like to see more of. Where can I find them?


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