Peter Gabriel: Mercy Street Meaning
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Mercy Street Lyrics
looking down on empty streets, all she can see
are the dreams all made solid
are the dreams all made real
all of the buildings, all of those cars
were once just a dream
in somebody's head
she pictures the broken...
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"Mercy Street" is the name of a play written by Anne Sexton, a poet who committed suicide in 1974 after a life marred by mental illness. The first couple of stanzas play on the difficulty she had differentiating between her successful creative life as a poet and her failings in her "real" life as a daughter/mother/wife.
As a poet, she, in effect, had a "leak at the seam," her inward thoughts and feelings that got expressed through her poetry. Many poets have commented on the pain that comes through revealing one's inner self. (Pink Floyd's whole "The Wall" album examines this theme.)
The boat references allude to her final book of poetry, "The Awful Rowing Toward God," about our inevitable journey toward death and the afterlife. "Tak[ing] the boat out" refers to her intention to accelerate her own demise. (She killed herself just after finishing the book.)
"Corridors of pale green [aka "hospital green"] and gray could refer to her stays in mental institutions during her manic episodes (which alternated with her stints of "ordinary life" in the suburbs of Boston).
"Wear your inside out" again refers to the way a poet exposes his soul to the world. That which, for most people, remains private and unknown is shown to all. The "daddy" allusions again seem to refer to God, in whose arms she might find that elusive mercy (so difficult to attain in this life, hence the reference to the moved street sign.
All of the confession allusions have double meaning, as much of Anne's life was spent "confessing" her innermost feelings to psychiatrists as well as revealing them to the public through her poetry. The shocks can doubly refer to shock therapy administered by psychiatrists as well as the shocking things a priest might hear in confession. Per Wikipedia, Sexton was the epitome of a "confessional poet."
anonymous Jul 6th 2019 report
To me, it seems to be much about a sexually abusive father regularly raping his daughter. And she is begging for mercy in her fathers arms...
anonymous Nov 5th 2017 report
This is the most wonderful songs I've ever listened to, the song interpretation is complete, Peater Gabril, thank you for helping me understand something that I would never have, without your words that touched my hart. You are so gifted..
anonymous Apr 1st 2008 report
I think the song is about human beings passage from childhood into adulthood and then the final quest for peace beyond the grave. The child is imaginative and full of wonder, its almost like a child is looking out of a broken window of a high building, looking down at the throng of life below and the breath(steam) of the child clouds the broken glass as if from very early on in life the soul starts to escape little by little, rendering the body, the shell empty. The body is restless and looking for peace , seeking mercy which is no where to be found.I must say I don't quite understand the allusion to the boat.It may be the boat symbolises escape and darkness is death under whose comforting cover the body can be free at last.Corridors of pale green and grey are the modern buildings that are at the heart of modern life which the writer feels is devoid of 'mercy' i.e peace. The writer's wish to wear their inside out points out the artificialness of our everyday existence and the superficiality of modern life which eats away at man's inner peace,I agree with cjk about the references to catholicism etc. about God as the father only in whose arms one can truly find peace. Also references to Mary and the confessional etc.The church is supposed to lead you to heaven , the confession should be able to bring forgiveness from sins committed in secret that trouble the should but it doesn't seem to help.The sign to mercy and peace has been moved.It is nowhere to be found.... I love this song. I do.Please feel free to email me if you agree with or have something to add to my interpretation.
There are quite a few references to the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation:
"kissing Mary's lips" The Virgin Mary
"in your daddy's arms again..." God as the Father figure
"confessing all the secret things in the warm velvet box, to the priest..." Could mean the Confessional
Plus, the whole refrain, dreaming of mercy street. Wanting to come back to God and be forgiven for the bad things you've done.
anonymous Mar 11th 2007 report
Hi, I really like this song very much. It's about his reminders of childhood, I think, when you can dream of being capable of doing everything.
What do you think?
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