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Night Drive--St. Petersburg, 1900 <i> (after Rilke)</i> , By Derek Mahon

Not drawn but flown by glistening mares

past silent, tomb-lit porticoes

and lamp-posts hung like chandeliers,

past granite palaces where a first

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dawn-glow lightened the roofs, we burst

on to the windy Neva quays,

rumbling there in an anxious, thin

half-light neither of earth nor heaven,

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leaving behind the unwoken, dark

woods of the Czar’s private park

protected from the risen breeze,

its statues fading, every gest-

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ure frozen for ever in the past.

St. Petersburg ceased to exist,

disclosed that it had never been;

asked only peace now, as if one

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long mad should find the knot untied

and watch, recovered and clear-eyed,

a fixed idea in its Byzantine,

varnished and adamantine shrine

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spin off from the whirling mind

and vanish, leaving not a trace behind.

From “Derek Mahon: Selected Poems” (Penguin: $12). 1993 Reprinted by permission.


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