Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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    Biographical information

  1. Aftermath
  2. Birds Of Passage
  3. Christmas Bells
  4. Hiawatha's Departure
  5. Paul Reveres Ride
  6. Something Left Undone
  7. The Cumberland
  8. The Fire Of Drift-Wood
  9. The Lighthouse
  10. The Psalm Of Life
  11. The Reaper And The Flowers
  12. The Three Kings
  13. The Wreck Of The Hesperus




    Biographical information

      Name: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
      Place and date of birth: Portland, Maine (United States); February 27, 1807
      Place and date of death: Cambridge, Massachusetts (United States); March 24, 1882 (aged 75)

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      Aftermath

        When the summer fields are mown,
        When the birds are fledged and flown,
        And the dry leaves strew the path;
        With the falling of the snow,
        With the cawing of the crow,
        Once again the fields we mow
        And gather in the aftermath.

        Not the sweet, new grass with flowers
        Is this harvesting of ours;
        Not the upland clover bloom;
        But the rowen mixed with weeds,
        Tangled tufts from marsh and meads,
        Where the poppy drops its seeds
        In the silence and the gloom.

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      Birds Of Passage

        Black shadows fall
        From the lindens tall,
        That lift aloft their massive wall
        Against the southern sky;

        And from the realms
        Of the shadowy elms
        A tide-like darkness overwhelms
        The fields that round us lie.

        But the night is fair,
        And everywhere
        A warm, soft vapor fills the air,
        And distant sounds seem near;

        And above, in the light
        Of the star-lit night,
        Swift birds of passage wing their flight
        Through the dewy atmosphere.

        I hear the beat
        Of their pinions fleet,
        As from the land of snow and sleet
        They seek a southern lea.

        I hear the cry
        Of their voices high
        Falling dreamily through the sky,
        But their forms I cannot see.

        Oh, say not so!
        Those sounds that flow
        In murmurs of delight and woe
        Come not from wings of birds.

        They are the throngs
        Of the poet's songs,
        Murmurs of pleasures, and pains, and wrongs,
        The sound of winged words.

        This is the cry
        Of souls, that high
        On toiling, beating pinions, fly,
        Seeking a warmer clime.

        From their distant flight
        Through realms of light
        It falls into our world of night,
        With the murmuring sound of rhyme.

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      Christmas Bells

        I heard the bells on Christmas Day
        Their old, familiar carols play,
        And wild and sweet
        The words repeat
        Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

        And thought how, as the day had come,
        The belfries of all Christendom
        Had rolled along
        The unbroken song
        Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

        Till, ringing, singing on its way
        The world revolved from night to day,
        A voice, a chime,
        A chant sublime
        Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

        Then from each black, accursed mouth
        The cannon thundered in the South,
        And with the sound
        The Carols drowned
        Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

        And in despair I bowed my head;
        'There is no peace on earth', I said;
        'For hate is strong,
        And mocks the song
        Of peace on earth, good-will to men!'.

        Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
        'God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
        The Wrong shall fail,
        The Right prevail,
        With peace on earth, good-will to men!'.

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      Hiawatha's Departure

        By the shore of Gitchie Gumee,
        By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
        At the doorway of his wigwam,
        In the pleasant Summer morning,
        Hiawatha stood and waited.
        All the air was full of freshness,
        All the earth was bright and joyous,
        And before him through the sunshine,
        Westward toward the neighboring forest
        Passed in golden swarms the Ahmo,
        Passed the bees, the honey-makers,
        Burning, singing in the sunshine.
        Bright above him shown the heavens,
        Level spread the lake before him;
        From its bosom leaped the sturgeon,
        Aparkling, flashing in the sunshine;
        On its margin the great forest
        Stood reflected in the water,
        Every tree-top had its shadow,
        Motionless beneath the water.
        From the brow of Hiawatha
        Gone was every trace of sorrow,
        As the fog from off the water,
        And the mist from off the meadow.
        With a smile of joy and triumph,
        With a look of exultation,
        As of one who in a vision
        Sees what is to be, but is not,
        Stood and waited Hiawatha.

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      Paul Reveres Ride

        Listen, my children, and you shall hear
        Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
        On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five:
        Hardly a man is now alive
        Who remembers that famous day and year.

        He said to his friend, 'If the British march
        By land or sea from the town to-night,
        Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
        Of the North Church tower as a signal-light,
        One, if by land, and two, if by sea;
        And I on the opposite shore will be,
        Ready to ride and spread the alarm
        Through every Middlesex village and farm,
        For the country folk to be up and to arm'.

        Then he said, Good-night! And with muffled oar
        Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
        Just as the moon rose over the bay,
        Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
        The Somerset, British man-of-war;
        A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
        Across the moon like a prison-bar,
        And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
        By its own reflection in the tide.

        Meanwhile, his friend, through alley and street
        Wanders and watches with eager ears,
        Till in the silence around him he hears
        The muster of men at the barrack door,
        The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
        And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
        Marching down to their boats on the shore.

        Then he climbed to the tower of the Old North Church
        By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
        To the belfry-chamber overhead,
        And startled the pigeons from their perch
        On the sombre rafters, that round him made
        Masses and moving shapes of shade,
        By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
        To the highest window in the wall,
        Where he paused to listen and look down
        A moment on the roofs of the town,
        And the moonlight flowing over all.

        Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
        In their night-encampment on the hill,
        Wrapped in silence so deep and still
        That he could hear, like a sentinel's tread,
        The watchful night-wind, as it went
        Creeping along from tent to tent,
        And seeming to whisper, 'All is well!'
        A moment only he feels the spell
        Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
        Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
        For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
        On a shadowy something far away,
        Where the river widens to meet the bay,
        A line of black that bends and floats
        On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.

        Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
        Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
        On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
        Now he patted his horse's side,
        Now gazed at the landscape far and near,
        Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
        And turned and tightened his saddle-girth;
        But mostly he watched with eager search
        The belfry-tower of the Old North Church,
        As it rose above the graves on the hill,
        Lonely, and spectral, and sombre and still.

        And lo! As he looks, on the belfry's height
        A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
        He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
        But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
        A second lamp in the belfry burns!
        A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
        A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
        And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
        Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet:
        That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
        The fate of a nation was riding that night;
        And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
        Kindled the land into flame with its heat.

        He has left the village and mounted the steep,
        And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
        Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
        And under the alders, that skirt its edge,
        Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
        Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

        It was twelve by the village clock
        When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
        He heard the crowing of the cock,
        And the barking of the farmer's dog,
        And felt the damp of the river fog,
        That rises after the sun goes down.

        It was one by the village clock,
        When he rode into Lexington.
        He saw the gilded weathercock
        Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
        And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,
        Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
        As if they already stood aghast
        At the bloody work they would look upon.

        It was two by the village clock,
        When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
        He heard the bleating of the flock,
        And the twitter of birds among the trees,
        And felt the breath of the morning breeze
        Blowing over the meadows brown.
        And one was safe and asleep in his bed
        Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
        Who that day would be lying dead,
        Pierced by a British musket-ball.

        You know the rest. In the books you have read,
        How the British Regulars fired and fled,
        How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
        From behind each fence and farm-yard wall,
        Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
        Then crossing the fields to emerge again
        Under the trees at the turn of the road,
        And only pausing to fire and load.

        So through the night rode Paul Revere;
        And so through the night went his cry of alarm
        To every Middlesex village and farm,
        A cry of defiance and not of fear,
        A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
        And a word that shall echo forevermore!
        For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
        Through all our history, to the last,
        In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
        The people will waken and listen to hear
        The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
        And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

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      Something Left Undone

        Labor with what zeal we will,
        Something still remains undone,
        Something uncompleted still
        Waits the rising of the sun.

        By the bedside, on the stair,
        At the threshhold, near the gates,
        With its menace or its prayer,
        Like a medicant it waits;

        Waits, and will not go away;
        Waits, and will not be gainsaid;
        By the cares of yesterday
        Each to-day is heavier made;

        Till at length the burden seems
        Greater than our strength can bear,
        Heavy as the weight of dreams
        Pressing on us everywhere.

        And we stand from day to day,
        Like the dwarfs of times gone by,
        Who, as Northern legends say,
        On their shoulders held the sky.

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      The Cumberland

        At anchor in Hampton Roads we lay,
        On board of the Cumberland, sloop-of-war;
        And at times from the fortress across the bay
        The alarum of drums swept past,
        Or a bugle blast
        From the camp on the shore.

        Then far away to the south uprose
        A little feather of snow-white smoke,
        And we knew that the iron ship of our foes
        Was steadily steering its course
        To try the force
        Of our ribs of oak.

        Down upon us heavily runs,
        Silent and sullen, the floating fort;
        Then comes a puff of smoke from her guns,
        And leaps the terrible death,
        With fiery breath,
        From each open port.

        We are not idle, but send her straight
        Defiance back in a full broadside!
        As hail rebounds from a roof of slate,
        Rebounds our heavier hail
        From each iron scale
        Of the monster's hide.

        'Strike your flag!', the rebel cries,
        In his arrogant old plantation strain.
        'Never!', our gallant Morris replies;
        'It is better to sink than to yield!'
        And the whole air pealed
        With the cheers of our men.

        Then, like a kraken huge and black,
        She crushed our ribs in her iron grasp!
        Down went the Cumberland all a wrack,
        With a sudden shudder of death,
        And the cannon's breath
        For her dying gasp.

        Next morn, as the sun rose over the bay,
        Still floated our flag at the mainmast head.
        Lord, how beautiful was Thy day!
        Every waft of the air
        Was a whisper of prayer,
        Or a dirge for the dead.

        Ho! Brave hearts that went down in the seas!
        Ye are at peace in the troubled stream;
        Ho! Brave land! With hearts like these,
        Thy flag, that is rent in twain,
        Shall be one again,
        And without a seam!

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      The Fire Of Drift-Wood

        We sat within the farm-house old,
        Whose windows, looking o'er the bay,
        Gave to the sea-breeze damp and cold,
        An easy entrance, night and day.

        Not far away we saw the port,
        The strange, old-fashioned, silent town,
        The lighthouse, the dismantled fort,
        The wooden houses, quaint and brown.

        We sat and talked until the night,
        Descending, filled the little room;
        Our faces faded from the sight,
        Our voices only broke the gloom.

        We spake of many a vanished scene,
        Of what we once had thought and said,
        Of what had been, and might have been,
        And who was changed, and who was dead;

        And all that fills the hearts of friends,
        When first they feel, with secret pain,
        Their lives thenceforth have separate ends,
        And never can be one again;

        The first slight swerving of the heart,
        That words are powerless to express,
        And leave it still unsaid in part,
        Or say it in too great excess.

        The very tones in which we spake
        Had something strange, I could but mark;
        The leaves of memory seemed to make
        A mournful rustling in the dark.

        Oft died the words upon our lips,
        As suddenly, from out the fire
        Built of the wreck of stranded ships,
        The flames would leap and then expire.

        And, as their splendor flashed and failed,
        We thought of wrecks upon the main,
        Of ships dismasted, that were hailed
        And sent no answer back again.

        The windows, rattling in their frames,
        The ocean, roaring up the beach,
        The gusty blast, the bickering flames,
        All mingled vaguely in our speech;

        Until they made themselves a part
        Of fancies floating through the brain,
        The long-lost ventures of the heart,
        That send no answers back again.

        O flames that glowed! O hearts that yearned!
        They were indeed too much akin,
        The drift-wood fire without that burned,
        The thoughts that burned and glowed within.

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      The Lighthouse

        The rocky ledge runs far into the sea,
        And on its outer point, some miles away,
        The lighthouse lifts its massive masonry,
        A pillar of fire by night, of cloud by day.

        Even at this distance I can see the tides,
        Upheaving, break unheard along its base,
        A speechless wrath, that rises and subsides
        In the white tip and tremor of the face.

        And as the evening darkens, lo! how bright,
        Through the deep purple of the twilight air,
        Beams forth the sudden radiance of its light,
        With strange, unearhly splendor in the glare!

        No one alone: from each projecting cape
        And perilous reef along the ocean's verge,
        Starts into life a dim, gigantic shape,
        Holding its lantern o'er the restless surge.

        Like the great giant Christopher it stands
        Upon the brink of the tempestuous wave,
        Wading far out among the rocks and sands,
        The night o'er taken mariner to save.

        And the great ships sail outward and return
        Bending and bowing o'er the billowy swells,
        And ever joyful, as they see it burn
        They wave their silent welcome and farewells.

        They come forth from the darkness, and their sails
        Gleam for a moment only in the blaze,
        And eager faces, as the light unveils
        Gaze at the tower, and vanish while they gaze.

        The mariner remembers when a child,
        On his first voyage, he saw it fade and sink
        And when returning from adventures wild,
        He saw it rise again o'er ocean's brink.

        Steadfast, serene, immovable, the same,
        Year after year, through all the silent night
        Burns on forevermore that quenchless flame,
        Shines on that inextinguishable light!

        It sees the ocean to its bosum clasp
        The rocks and sea-sand with the kiss of peace:
        It sees the wild winds lift it in their grasp,
        And hold it up, and shake it like a fleece.

        The startled waves leap over it; the storm
        Smites it with all the scourges of the rain,
        And steadily against its solid form
        Press the great shoulders of the hurricane.

        The sea-bird wheeling round it, with the din
        Of wings and winds and solitary cries,
        Blinded and maddened by the light within,
        Dashes himself against the glare, and dies.

        A new Prometheus, chained upon the rock,
        Still grasping in his hand the fire of love,
        It does not hear the cry, nor heed the shock,
        But hails the mariner with words of love.

        'Sail on!', it says: 'Sail on, ye stately ships!
        And with your floating bridge the ocean span;
        Be mine to guard this light from all eclipse.
        Be yours to bring man neared unto man.

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      The Psalm Of Life

        What the heart of the young man said to the psalmist
        Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
        Life is but an empty dream!-
        For the soul is dead that slumbers,
        And things are not what they seem.

        Life is real! Life is earnest!
        And the grave is not its goal;
        Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
        Was not spoken of the soul.

        Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
        Is our destined end or way;
        But to act, that each to-morrow
        Find us farther than to-day.

        Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
        And our hearts, though stout and brave,
        Still, like muffled drums, are beating
        Funeral marches to the grave.

        In the world's broad field of battle,
        In the bivouac of Life,
        Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
        Be a hero in the strife!

        Trust no future, howe'er pleasant!
        Let the dead Past bury its dead!
        Act,--act in the living present!
        Heart within, and God o'erhead!

        Lives of great men all remind us
        We can make our lives sublime,
        And departing, leave behind us
        Footprints on the sands of time;

        Footprints, that perhaps another,
        Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
        A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
        Seeing, shall take heart again.

        Let us, then, be up and doing,
        With a heart for any fate;
        Still achieving, still pursuing,
        Learn to labor and to wait.

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      The Reaper And The Flowers

        There is a Reaper whose name is Death,
        And, with his sickle keen,
        He reaps the bearded grain at a breath,
        And the flowers that grow between.

        'Shall I have nought that is fair?' Saith he;
        'Have nought but the bearded grain?
        Though the breath of these flowers is sweet to me,
        I will give them all back again'.

        He gazed at the flowers with tearful eyes,
        He kissed their drooping leaves;
        It was for the Lord of Paradise
        He bound them in his sheaves.

        'My Lord has need of these flowerets gay','
        The Reaper said, and smiled;
        'Dear tokens of the earth are they,
        Where he was once a child.

        'They shall all bloom in fields of light,
        Transplanted by my care,
        And saints, upon their garments white,
        These sacred blossoms wear'.

        And the mother gave, in tears and pain,
        The flowers she most did love;
        She knew she should find them all again
        In the fields of light above.

        O, not in cruelty, not in wrath,
        The Reaper came that day;
        'Twas an angel visited the green earth,
        And took the flowers away.

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      The Three Kings

        Three Kings came riding from far away,
        Melchior and Gaspar and Baltasar;
        Three Wise Men out of the East were they,
        And they travelled by night and they slept by day,
        For their guide was a beautiful, wonderful star.

        The star was so beautiful, large and clear,
        That all the other stars of the sky
        Became a white mist in the atmosphere,
        And by this they knew that the coming was near
        Of the Prince foretold in the prophecy.

        Three caskets they bore on their saddle-bows,
        Three caskets of gold with golden keys;
        Their robes were of crimson silk with rows
        Of bells and pomegranates and furbelows,
        Their turbans like blossoming almond-trees.

        And so the Three Kings rode into the West,
        Through the dusk of the night, over hill and dell,
        And sometimes they nodded with beard on breast,
        And sometimes talked, as they paused to rest,
        With the people they met at some wayside well.

        'Of the child that is born', said Baltasar,
        'Good people, I pray you, tell us the news;
        For we in the East have seen his star,
        And have ridden fast, and have ridden far,
        To find and worship the King of the Jews'.

        And the people answered, 'You ask in vain;
        We know of no King but Herod the Great!'
        They thought the Wise Men were men insane,
        As they spurred their horses across the plain,
        Like riders in haste, who cannot wait.

        And when they came to Jerusalem,
        Herod the Great, who had heard this thing,
        Sent for the Wise Men and questioned them;
        And said, 'Go down unto Bethlehem,
        And bring me tidings of this new king'.

        So they rode away; and the star stood still,
        The only one in the grey of morn;
        Yes, it stopped -it stood still of its own free will,
        Right over Bethlehem on the hill,
        The city of David, where Christ was born.

        And the Three Kings rode through the gate and the guard,
        Through the silent street, till their horses turned
        And neighed as they entered the great inn-yard;
        But the windows were closed, and the doors were barred,
        And only a light in the stable burned.

        And cradled there in the scented hay,
        In the air made sweet by the breath of kine,
        The little child in the manger lay,
        The child, that would be king one day
        Of a kingdom not human, but divine.

        His mother Mary of Nazareth
        Sat watching beside his place of rest,
        Watching the even flow of his breath,
        For the joy of life and the terror of death
        Were mingled together in her breast.

        They laid their offerings at his feet:
        The gold was their tribute to a King,
        The frankincense, with its odor sweet,
        Was for the Priest, the Paraclete,
        The myrrh for the body's burying.

        And the mother wondered and bowed her head,
        And sat as still as a statue of stone,
        Her heart was troubled yet comforted,
        Remembering what the Angel had said
        Of an endless reign and of David's throne.

        Then the Kings rode out of the city gate,
        With a clatter of hoofs in proud array;
        But they went not back to Herod the Great,
        For they knew his malice and feared his hate,
        And returned to their homes by another way.

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      The Wreck Of The Hesperus

        It was the schooner Hesperus,
        That sailed the wintry sea;
        And the skipper had taken his little daughter,
        To bear him company.

        Blue were her eyes as the fairy-flax,
        Her cheeks like the dawn of day,
        And her bosom white as the hawthorn buds,
        That ope in the month of May.

        The skipper he stood beside the helm,
        His pipe was in his mouth,
        And he watched how the veering flaw did blow
        The smoke now West, now South.

        Then up and spake an old Sailor,
        Had sailed to the Spanish Main,
        'I pray thee, put into yonder port,
        For I fear a hurricane.

        'Last night, the moon had a golden ring,
        And to-night no moon we see!'
        The skipper, he blew a whiff from his pipe,
        And a scornful laugh laughed he.

        Colder and louder blew the wind,
        A gale from the Northeast,
        The snow fell hissing in the brine,
        And the billows frothed like yeast.

        Down came the storm, and smote amain
        The vessel in its strength;
        She shuddered and paused, like a frighted steed,
        Then leaped her cable's length.

        'Come hither! Come hither! My little daughter,
        And do not tremble so;
        For I can weather the roughest gale
        That ever wind did blow'.

        He wrapped her warm in his seaman's coat
        Against the stinging blast;
        He cut a rope from a broken spar,
        And bound her to the mast.

        'O father! I hear the church-bells ring,
        Oh say, what may it be?'
        'T is a fog-bell on a rock-bound coast!'
        And he steered for the open sea.

        'O father! I hear the sound of guns,
        Oh say, what may it be?'
        'Some ship in distress, that cannot live
        In such an angry sea!'.

        'O father! I see a gleaming light,
        Oh say, what may it be?'
        But the father answered never a word,
        A frozen corpse was he.

        Lashed to the helm, all stiff and stark,
        With his face turned to the skies,
        The lantern gleamed through the gleaming snow
        On his fixed and glassy eyes.

        Then the maiden clasped her hands and prayed
        That savèd she might be;
        And she thought of Christ, who stilled the wave
        On the Lake of Galilee.

        And fast through the midnight dark and drear,
        Through the whistling sleet and snow,
        Like a sheeted ghost, the vessel swept
        Tow'rds the reef of Norman's Woe.

        And ever the fitful gusts between
        A sound came from the land;
        It was the sound of the trampling surf
        On the rocks and the hard sea-sand.

        The breakers were right beneath her bows,
        She drifted a dreary wreck,
        And a whooping billow swept the crew
        Like icicles from her deck.

        She struck where the white and fleecy waves
        Looked soft as carded wool,
        But the cruel rocks, they gored her side
        Like the horns of an angry bull.

        Her rattling shrouds, all sheathed in ice,
        With the masts went by the board;
        Like a vessel of glass, she stove and sank,
        Ho! ho! the breakers roared!

        At daybreak, on the bleak sea-beach,
        A fisherman stood aghast,
        To see the form of a maiden fair,
        Lashed close to a drifting mast.

        The salt sea was frozen on her breast,
        The salt tears in her eyes;
        And he saw her hair, like the brown sea-weed,
        On the billows fall and rise.

        Such was the wreck of the Hesperus,
        In the midnight and the snow!
        Christ save us all from a death like this,
        On the reef of Norman's Woe!

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