Friday, April 3, 2009

Mercy Street

I was reading Linda Sexton's op-ed piece today about the recent suicide of Nicolas Hughes, Sylvia Plath's son. Linda is the daughter of poet Anne Sexton, whose mental illness led her to take her own life in 1974. What caught my eye though was the allusion to one of Anne Sexton's works, 45 Mercy Street.

I immediately thought of Peter Gabriel's own "Mercy Street". A quick search later (I love living in the future) and sure enough; Peter Gabriel's song was about Anne Sexton. I have always loved the haunting beauty of this song, and as I read comments from other fans of the song, I realized I wasn't the only one it bought to tears.

While I never knew (until today) what the references to the song were about, they resonated with me in ways that spoke to my own interpretation. The search for the unfindable Mercy Street evokes the sad, quixotic search for one's own childhood, the crushing realization that it is gone forever. Likewise, the tender verse about "the tremble in her hips...of kissing Mary's lips" brings back the flood of emotions that surrounded our first encounters with love and intimacy and the same sadness of never being able to recapture that time again.

Two years ago, when my father died, Mercy Street was the first song I put on my playlist. I remember sitting with my brother Mark, in a darkened room, listening. The the mood that the song creates and the vague references to "her father", and the overall feeling of loss the song conveyed were the perfect accompaniment to our grief.

Naturally I looked up Sexton's unfinished poem 45 Mercy Street (her original 45 Marcy Street was a play, now long out of print). It is a perfect complement to Gabriel's Mercy Street, although I found its tone a little more desperate and resigned. It was as if her madness, and her realization of it, was just a little closer to the surface.

Anyway, read Anne Sexton's poem. Then put on Gabriel's Mercy Street. (and don't forget the box of tissues).