Beethoven: ISC Class 12 English questions, answers, notes

Beethoven isc class 12
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Get notes, line-by-line explanation, summary, questions and answers, critical analysis, word meanings, extras, and pdf of the poem “Beethoven” by Shane
 Koyczan, which is part of ISC Class 12 English (Rhapsody: A Collection of ISC Poems). However, the notes should only be treated as references, and changes should be made according to the needs of the students.


The poet starts and ends the poem with the word ‘Listen’ to show that to understand Beethoven, you just need to listen to his music. Beethoven’s father expected him to create perfect music, and he was always dissatisfied, saying, “Not good enough.” Beethoven couldn’t hear, but he still created beautiful music in his mind. He never got to hear the applause of his audience, but his music was magical and made people feel heavenly. People always wanted to hear more of it.

Beethoven was a bit of an egoist because he didn’t bow to kings or queens, but he respected music immensely. He even modified his piano to feel the vibrations through the floor.

When his music was played by an orchestra, he acted like his father, always saying, “Not good enough.” This annoyed the musicians, and they even made fun of him by copying his moves without playing their instruments. Beethoven, who was deaf, thought their notes were perfect because he had a special connection with silence.

The musicians were puzzled and didn’t know if Beethoven was crazy or a genius. Eventually, they realised that his music was so powerful that it could rival the mythical Towers of Babylon, influence comets, and affect the stars. Beethoven’s divine music confused the musicians, but they ultimately decided he must be a genius.

Beethoven was a musician who could turn emotions into music. He was inseparable from music, and his notes seemed to express both love and hate. To understand Beethoven, you don’t need to know his life story; you just need to ‘Listen’ to his music.

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Line-by-line explanation


The single imperative word “Listen” opens the poem, commanding the reader to deeply and attentively listen to and absorb the emotional essence of Beethoven’s iconic music.

His father made a habit out of hitting him.

Beethoven’s father severely and regularly abused him, violently striking and beating the young Beethoven on a habitual basis as an unhealthy outlet for his own inner turmoil. This ingrained domestic violence establishes the atmosphere of terror, unpredictability, and pain in Beethoven’s childhood home.

See, some men drink, some men yell, some men hit their children.

The speaker offers examples of how some troubled fathers coping with anger or frustration turn to dysfunctional outlets like drinking excessively to numb their pain, yelling angrily at family, or horrifically taking out their struggles by hitting vulnerable children. Beethoven’s father chose to release his inner demons by brutally hitting his son.

This man did it all because I guess all men want their boys to be geniuses.

The speaker speculates psychologically that Beethoven’s father was so extremely abusive partly because he harboured intense ambitions for his son to become a legendary musical genius. The father imposed these unrealistic expectations on Beethoven in a damaging manner through violence and verbal attacks.

Beethoven. Little boy living in a house where a name meant nothing.

“Beethoven” names the subject, whom the speaker imagines as a young, small, helpless boy living in a home where his identity, self-worth, and humanity were completely disregarded and minimised. Beethoven was not valued for his inherent dignity or talents as a person.

Living in a house where mercy had to be earned through each perfect note tumbling up through the roof to tickle the toes of angels who’s harps couldn’t hold half the passion that was held in the hands of a young boy who was hard of hearing.

Beethoven had to earn small moments of conditional mercy or affection from his father through flawlessly playing piano with technical precision. The musical notes are visualised energetically rising up through the roof of the house,joyfully escaping to the heavens where they delightfully tickle the toes of angels playing ethereal harps. The speaker imagines even the angelic harps cannot capture half the raw human passion infused in the music young Beethoven produces, which pours from his talented hands. It is also revealed Beethoven was losing his sense of hearing even as a boy.

Beethoven. Who heard his father’s anthem every time he put finger to ivory it was not good enough.

Whenever Beethoven attempted to play piano, the voice of his stern father declaring that his effort was inadequate and “not good enough” played in Beethoven’s mind, like a repetitive anthem or scolding refrain. Beethoven constantly faced impossible standards of perfection.

So he played slowly. Not good enough. So he played softly. Not good enough. So he played strongly. Not good enough.

No matter how Beethoven interpreted the music – playing thoughtfully slow, gently soft, or boldly strong – his father’s voice echoed “Not good enough,” refusing to be pleased. The criticism was relentless and uncompromising no matter how Beethoven tried to modify his playing style and technique.

And when he could play no more and his fingers cramped up like the gnarled roots of tree trunks it was NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

Even after practising to complete exhaustion, until Beethoven’s fingers knotted up in agonising painful cramps, with muscles contorting like the twisted gnarled roots of ancient trees, his father’s voice still condemned the efforts as incompetent and NOT GOOD ENOUGH. This reveals the extreme, unreasonable pressure Beethoven faced.

Beethoven. A musician without his most precious tool: his eardrums could no longer pound out rhythms for the symphonies playing in his mind

Beethoven the musician is depicted as tragically being deprived of his most essential, indispensable asset – his ears and his ability to hear. As Beethoven progressively went deaf, he could no longer hear or discern the nuances of the symphonic music unfolding in his creative imagination.

He couldn’t hear the audience’s clapping couldn’t hear the people loving him couldn’t hear the women in the front row whispering Beethoven

Beethoven’s deafness also painfully isolated and separated him from directly experiencing the praise, applause, admiration, and cries of “Beethoven!” from his audiences. He was unable to hear their ovations or whispered words.

As they let the music invade their nervous system like an Armada marching through firing canon balls detonating every molecule in their body into explosions of heavenly sensation

This verse uses vivid sensory imagery to dramatically depict how Beethoven’s music entered his listeners’ bodies with overwhelming immersive power. The sounds wash over their nervous system like an invading naval Armada, firing volleys of cannonballs that detonate within the body, bombarding every molecule and nerve ending in cascading explosions of ecstatic sensation.

Each note leaving track marks over every inch of that body making them ache for one more hit. He was an addiction.

Each melodic note leaves its metaphorical impactful mark on the listener, imprinting itself on their psyche, making them desperately ache and crave just one more jolt of the musical drug that is Beethoven. His music acts as a powerfully addictive narcotic for the senses.

And Kings, Queens, it didn’t matter The man got down on his knees for no one, but amputated the legs of his piano so he could feel the vibrations through the floor The man got down on his knees for music.

Beethoven refused to kneel or bow down in deference to human kings or queens. Yet he dramatically prostrated himself solely for the goddess Music, even going so far as to amputate the legs of his own piano in order to press his body closer to the floor and feel the vibrations of the notes through the wooden floorboards as his deafness worsened. His only true devotion was to his musical art.

And when the orchestra played his symphonies it was the echoes of his father’s anthem repeating itself like a broken record, a broken record It was not good enough.

Even when played flawlessly by a full professional orchestra, Beethoven psychologically still only heard the cruel echoes of his father’s voice repeating that his ambitious symphonies were never good enough, like the stuck needle of a damaged record player endlessly recycling the same condemnations.

So they played slowly. Not good enough. So they played softly. Not good enough. So they played strongly NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

In Beethoven’s warped mind, the orchestra interpreting his works slowly and gently was deemed inadequate. Their soft emotional playing was found wanting. Even when the orchestra performed the symphonies with loud, forceful, confident strength, his father’s judgement still rang out NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

So they tried to mock the man, make fun of the madness by mimicking the movements, holding their bows a quarter of an inch above the strings not making a sound. It was perfect.

In an attempt to tease and mock the deaf Beethoven in his eccentricity, the orchestra musicians jokingly exaggerated their physical playing motions while deliberately holding their bows just slightly above the string instruments without actually touching bow to string. This produced no real audible music, just the illusion and pantomime of playing. Perversely, to Beethoven in his almost total deafness, this silent mocking imitation was paradoxically perfect music and melody.

You see the deaf have an intimacy with silence. It’s there in their dreams.

The speaker explains that deaf people have a uniquely close relationship with absolute silence unknown to the hearing. Silence is constantly present for them, a companion even invading the landscape of their dreams at night. This accounts for why Beethoven perceived the soundless comedy act as ideal.

And the musicians turn to one another not knowing what to make of the man trying to calculate the distance between madness and genius, realising that Beethoven’s musical measurements could take you the distances reaching past the Towers of Babylon,

The confused orchestra musicians exchange puzzled glances, not knowing how to interpret or categorise this bizarre, eccentric man Beethoven. They ponder whether he has slipped into actual madness or remains an unfathomable genius. The musicians realise that Beethoven’s musical imagination reaches mythical, cosmic distances far beyond ordinary human limits, calculating lengths exceeding earthly measurements.

turning solar systems into cymbals that crash together, causing comets to collide, creating crescendos that were so loud they shook the constellations until the stars began to fall from the sky and it looked like the entire universe had begun to cry,

Beethoven’s music takes on astronomical power and scale in the verse, with whole solar systems becoming crashing symbols, comets smashing together to create deafening cosmic crescendos that shake entire constellations until stars are jarred loose, falling from the heavens like luminous tears weeping through the celestial spheres.

Distance must be an illusion. The man MUST be a genius.

Since Beethoven’s musical imagination can traverse such interstellar distances, the musicians conclude that terrestrial distance itself must be an illusion. With a scope of such magnitude and grandeur, Beethoven’s status as a radical genius is confirmed without doubt.

Beethoven. His thoughts moving at the speed of sound. Transforming emotion into music.

Beethoven’s mind is depicted working at astonishing velocity, with his thoughts firing faster than the speed of sound, able to rapidly transform raw human emotion into sublime transcendent musical art.

And for a moment it was like joy was a tangible thing, like you could touch it. Like for the first time we could watch love and hate dance together in a waltz of such precision and beauty that we finally understood that history wasn’t important

When hearing Beethoven’s music, joy becomes nearly a tangible, physical substance that can be felt and touched. Love and hate are personified elegantly dancing together with graceful precision and splendour. This makes listeners realise for the first time that historical context and biography are unimportant…

To know the man all we ever had to do was Listen.

The concluding line declares that to truly know and comprehend the essence of Beethoven as a man, all that is needed is to deeply and carefully listen to his music.

Word meanings

yell – To shout loudly or angrily.

Beethoven – Referring to Ludwig van Beethoven, a famous composer and pianist.

note – A single musical sound or symbol used in written music.

tumbling – Falling or rolling in a disordered manner.

harps – Musical instruments with strings that are plucked or strummed.

hard of hearing – Having difficulty hearing or being partially deaf.

ivory – The white material obtained from the tusks of elephants, often used for piano keys.

eardrums – The thin membrane in the ear that vibrates in response to sound waves.

symphonies – Complex musical compositions typically played by orchestras.

intimacy – A close and personal connection or familiarity.

cymbals – Musical instruments consisting of two circular metal plates that are struck together.

comets – Celestial objects made of ice, dust, and rock that often have a bright tail when they approach the sun.

constellations – Patterns of stars in the night sky that form recognizable shapes or figures.

crescendos – A gradual increase in the loudness of music.

Critical analysis of the poem

The poem “Beethoven” is a passionate and theatrical spoken word piece that brings the composer’s genius to life. As a spoken word poem designed for performance, it utilises elements of storytelling, rhythm, repetition, and vivid imagery to engage the listener. While freeverse and lacking a rhyme scheme, Koyczan strategically employs alliteration, select rhyming, and intentional line breaks to add musicality.

The opening command to “Listen” acts as a gateway to immerse the audience in Beethoven’s music. Likewise, the concluding line, “all we ever had to do was Listen,” emphasises that his works alone encapsulate his essence. Koyczan creatively brackets the poem with this message – biography is unimportant, just listen.

Vivid descriptions, metaphors, and visual imagery paint a dramatic portrait of Beethoven that audiences can visualize. The thunderous assault of his music on the nervous system is captured through the metaphor of an invading navy bombarding with cannon fire. Mythic and cosmic imagery further conveys the astronomical scale of his artistic vision – crashing solar systems and colliding comets illustrate the cataclysmic power of his compositions.

The poem also stirs empathy for Beethoven’s childhood trauma and the onset of deafness through evocative details and repetition. We feel the father’s cruel blows, the “not good enough” tormenting Beethoven’s mind, his anguish as deafness descends. Repetition of “Beethoven” reminds us this genius was once a vulnerable child.

Beyond its adept use of poetic devices, “Beethoven” simply sounds sublime when read aloud. Rhythm, alliteration, intentional line breaks, and key repeated words emphasize critical points. The concluding single-word line “Listen” resonates and lingers. This is a masterful spoken word poem that induces the audience to not just learn about, but vividly experience Beethoven’s majesty.

Through impassioned performance and skillful language, Koyczan brings the legend to life. “Beethoven” inspires us to listen anew to compositions that still speak across centuries. The poem is a tribute to artistic genius that transcends time and place.

Workbook solutions

Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs)

(i) What is the tone of the poem?

(a) sedate (b) passionate (c) gentle (d) harsh

Answer: (b) passionate

(ii) Beethoven’s father was extremely:

(a) bullish (b) strict (c) polite (d) docile

Answer: (b) strict

(iii) What kind of music was created by Beethoven?

(a) gentle (b) loud (c) heavenly (d) folk

Answer: (c) heavenly

(iv) his fingers cramped up/like the gnarled roots.’ Which figure of speech is used here?

(a) simile (b) irony (c) pun (d) metaphor

Answer: (a) simile

(v) What was ‘not good enough’, according to Beethoven himself?

(a) his own piece of music (b) the musician’s performance (c) his father’s conduct (d) his pride

Answer: (b) the musician’s performance

(vi) What was Beethoven’s handicap?

(a) his deafness (b) his blindness (c) his egotism (d) none of the above

Answer: (a) his deafness

(vii) How did the musicians make fun of him?

(a) by jeering at him (b) by laughing loudly (c) by ignoring his remarks (d) by imitating his movements without actually playing on the instruments

Answer: (d) by imitating his movements without actually playing on the instruments

(viii) ‘The man got down on his knees for no one.’ What kind of man was Beethoven?

(a) proud (b) arrogant (c) self-respecting (d) not worldly-wise

Answer: (c) self-respecting

(ix) Which of these epithets is suitable for a person like Beethoven?

(a) mad (b) genius (c) foolish (d) witty

Answer: (b) genius

(x) What, according to the poet, is needed to know Beethoven?

(a) listening to his critics (b) listening to his music (c) listening to the audience (d) reading his biography

Answer: (b) listening to his music

Logic-Based Questions

i. Beethoven’s father would often hit him for

Answer: Not creating the perfect divine notes on his piano. If he failed to satisfy his father, he was badly treated and punished.

ii. Beethoven’s father was never satisfied with his music because

Answer: He expected him to create perfect notes and, in his desperation to see him as a genius, he was never satisfied, always responding with “Not good enough.”

iii. Like his father, Beethoven too would never praise his instrumentalists because

Answer: He inherited this trait from his father, repeating the refrain “Not good enough” and never being satisfied with the musicians’ performances.

iv. People at first failed to appreciate Beethoven’s music because

Answer: The document does not provide a direct answer to this question.

v. Beethoven never got down on his knees for anyone because

Answer: He was an egotist who never bowed before anyone, king or queen, but he bowed before music and got down on his knees for music.

vi. Beethoven cut off the legs of his piano because

Answer: He wanted to feel the shaking movement (vibrations) through the floor due to his hard of hearing, to better sense the music he was creating.

vii. The musicians mimicked Beethoven’s movements without touching the strings with their bows as

Answer: They tried to mock him, making fun of his deafness, by imitating his movements without actually playing on the instruments.

viii. The musicians were confused because

Answer: They could not decide whether Beethoven was mad or a genius, as his musical scales were extraordinary and his music had a divine power.

ix. The poet alludes to the mythical Towers of Babylon because

Answer: Beethoven’s musical scales were such as to touch the heights of the famous mythical Towers of Babylon, causing comets to collide and affecting heavenly constellations.

x. The poem begins and ends with the same word ‘Listen’ because

Answer: To highlight the fact that to know Beethoven, one needs only to listen to his music.

xi. Beethoven could transform emotions into music as

Answer: His thoughts moved at the speed of sound, shaping his emotions into the forms of musical compositions.

xii The joy imparted by Beethoven’s music was tangible because

Answer: It was like joy was a tangible thing, like you could touch it, and for the first time, it was possible to watch love and hate dance together to the same song.

Short Answer Questions

(i) What impression do you form of Beethoven’s father?

Answer: Beethoven’s father appears to be an abusive, demanding, and unrelenting figure, driven by the obsession to have his son become a genius in music, without regard for the emotional and physical toll his harsh methods took on young Beethoven.

(ii) What did Beethoven inherit from his father? Was it conscious or unconscious, positive or negative? Elaborate.

Answer: Beethoven seems to have inherited a sense of never being satisfied with his music, reflecting his father’s constant criticism. Whether conscious or unconscious, this inheritance was both negative, as it was rooted in abuse, and potentially positive, as it pushed him towards artistic perfection.

(iii) ‘Most musicians failed to understand Beethoven and his music.’ Comment.

Answer: Many musicians were initially baffled by Beethoven’s genius and his intense commitment to his music, which verged on the incomprehensible for them. They struggled to discern whether his behaviors were a sign of madness or brilliance due to his unorthodox methods and deafness.

(iv) How does the poet describe the impact of Beethoven’s music?

Answer: The poet describes Beethoven’s music as an overwhelming force that invades the nervous system, causing an explosive reaction of heavenly sensations in the listeners, akin to a deeply moving, addictive high that leaves them craving more.

(v) What did Beethoven suffer from? How did it affect his music?

Answer: Beethoven suffered from a progressive hearing loss, which eventually led to deafness. This did not hinder his ability to create music; rather, it forced him to find unique ways to connect with his music, like feeling vibrations through the floor, and it intensified the emotional depth and innovation in his compositions.

(vi) Comment on the use of imagery used in the poem.

Answer: The poem employs vivid and powerful imagery, contrasting the brutal upbringing by Beethoven’s father with the divine and profound impact of his music. It uses celestial and mythological references to convey the magnitude and influence of his musical genius.

Long Answer Questions

(i) ‘Beethoven is a spoken-word poem.’ Discuss.

Answer: ‘Beethoven’ is quintessentially a spoken-word poem, which is designed to be performed rather than merely read. Spoken-word poetry often focuses on the sound and rhythm of the words as much as their meaning. This poem’s narrative style, direct address to the listener, repetitive motifs, and its emotive and rhythmic delivery are all characteristic of spoken-word poetry. The poem’s oral quality is designed to captivate an audience, much like a musical performance, making it an auditory experience that can be both powerful and personal. The repetition of the word “Listen” not only mimics the musicality of Beethoven’s work but also encapsulates the essence of spoken-word — to hear and be moved by the spoken expressions of the artist. The performance of this poem is meant to echo the emotional intensity of Beethoven’s life and works, engaging listeners in a multisensory experience.

(ii) Write a note on the imagery of the poem ‘Beethoven’.

Answer: The poem ‘Beethoven’ by Shane Koyczan is replete with striking imagery that draws the reader into the emotional landscape of Beethoven’s life and the essence of his music. The imagery contrasts the stark, violent experience of his youth with the transcendent beauty of his compositions. Koyczan uses celestial imagery, comparing Beethoven’s music to heavenly bodies and cosmic events, suggesting its ability to touch the divine and affect nature itself. There’s a vivid portrayal of Beethoven’s music as an intoxicating force, with references to addiction and physical sensations, indicating how deeply it moves listeners. The poem also depicts the tragedy of Beethoven’s deafness through potent imagery, like cutting the legs off his piano to feel the vibrations, which illuminates the lengths to which he went to stay connected to his craft. Through such powerful imagery, the poem encapsulates Beethoven’s torment, resilience, and the indomitable spirit of his genius.

(iii) Who was Beethoven? How was he treated by his father? How did his father’s behaviour impact his psyche? Discuss with reference to the text.

Answer: Ludwig van Beethoven was a revolutionary composer whose influence on music is unparalleled. The poem portrays him as a prodigy molded under the severe hand of his father, who subjected him to a regimen of rigorous musical training and strict discipline. This abusive and relentless pursuit for perfection left a lasting mark on Beethoven’s psyche. His father’s treatment ingrained in him an enduring sense of inadequacy and an unrelenting drive for perfection, as nothing he did was ever “good enough.” This had a significant psychological impact, contributing to Beethoven’s solitary nature and his relentless pursuit of musical innovation. It possibly led to his profound connection to music as a means of expression and solace. His father’s behavior instilled in him an inner turmoil that Beethoven transformed into unparalleled musical compositions, as evidenced by the raw emotion conveyed in his works.

(iv) Why were musicians confused about Beethoven? What did they have to admit?

Answer: Musicians initially found themselves at an impasse when confronted with Beethoven’s music and behavior, struggling to decipher the man behind the sounds that defied the conventions of their time. The poem captures their confusion, as they oscillate between viewing him as a madman for his peculiar methods — like removing the legs of his piano — and a genius for the beauty and innovation of his compositions. Eventually, they are forced to concede that the power and genius of Beethoven’s music eclipse his oddities. His ability to translate profound emotion into music, to innovate despite his hearing loss, and to affect people on an almost spiritual level left musicians with no choice but to acknowledge that Beethoven was not just a musician but a force of nature, a composer whose works would stand the test of time.

(v) The poet says that in order to know Beethoven you need not read history but only to listen to his music. Do you agree? Give reasons to justify your answer.

Answer: The assertion that one need not delve into Beethoven’s history but rather listen to his music to truly know him is compelling. Beethoven’s music is not merely a collection of notes and harmonies; it’s a window into his soul, an aural manifestation of his innermost thoughts and feelings. The pain, struggle, passion, and joy he experienced are encoded in his symphonies, sonatas, and quartets. By listening to his music, one can perceive the nuances of his emotional state and the genius of his creativity that biography alone cannot convey. The poet emphasizes the emotional connection that Beethoven’s music forges with the listener, an experience that transcends the written history and becomes personal. In this sense, the poem suggests that Beethoven’s true essence is captured in the legacies of sound he left behind, making the act of listening an intimate encounter with the composer’s spirit.

Additional/extra questions and answers

1. Describe the relationship between Beethoven and his father as depicted in the poem.

Answer: In the poem, the relationship between Beethoven and his father is strained and abusive. Beethoven’s father is depicted as a harsh disciplinarian who resorts to physical violence in his relentless pursuit to mould his son into a musical genius. This constant pressure and lack of affection create an environment of fear and perfectionism, which deeply impacts Beethoven’s emotional well-being and artistic development.

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20. Discuss the significance of the ending of the poem and what it suggests about the legacy of Beethoven.

Answer: The ending’s return to the word “Listen” signifies that Beethoven’s true legacy lies in his music itself. It suggests that to understand and appreciate Beethoven’s life and genius, one must engage directly with his compositions, which continue to resonate and affect listeners deeply, transcending time and conveying his enduring impact on the world of music.

Additional/extra MCQs

1. What is the primary theme of Shane Koyczan’s poem “Beethoven”?

A. The beauty of nature B. The struggle between love and hate C. The impact of abuse on creativity D. The exploration of space

Answer: C. The impact of abuse on creativity

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20. By the end of the poem, Beethoven’s legacy is suggested to be his:

A. Personal struggles B. Relationship with his father C. Musical compositions D. Historical biography

Answer: C. Musical compositions

About the author

Shane Koyczan is a Canadian poet known for his engaging spoken-word performances and his impactful writings on topics that touch the hearts of many. He grew up in Penticton, British Columbia, and was educated at Okanagan College, which helped shape his early career as a writer.

He writes about real-life issues, such as bullying, health challenges, and personal loss, which are relatable to many people. His poem about bullying, titled “To This Day,” became incredibly popular online, especially on YouTube, because of its powerful message and emotional delivery.

Koyczan has also worked with a group called Tons of Fun University and saw his autobiographical verse-novel “Stickboy” adapted for the stage by the Vancouver Opera. His first collection of poetry, “Visiting Hours,” was so well received that it was listed as one of the best books of 2005 by prestigious newspapers such as The Guardian and The Globe and Mail.

His talents shone brightly when he performed his poem “We are More” at the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, showcasing his skills to a worldwide audience.

Recognized for his artistic contributions, Koyczan has received accolades like the BC Civil Liberties Award. His other notable works include the books “Our Deathbeds Will Be Thirsty” and “A Bruise on Light.” Shane Koyczan’s work, especially in the realm of spoken word, is a testament to the power of poetry to address social issues and connect with people on a deep emotional level.

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