Saturday, November 14, 2009

Mercy Street

"Mercy Street"
I've never understood what this song was about, but the simple, crisp musicality of it has always riveted me whenever I hear it. Yesterday I read more about it and that the title came from Anne Sexton's 1969 play 45 Mercy Street. She was also working on a poem with the same title at the time of her death.

Anne Sexton (November 9, 1928, Newton, Massachusetts–October 4, 1974, Weston, Massachusetts) was an influential American poet and writer known for her highly personal, confessional poetry. She won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967. Themes of her poetry include her long battle with depression.. She wrote as a form of therapy.

Biographers place great emphasis on Sexton's psychiatric treatment, which was significant as evidenced by the content of her poetry. And, it is possible, given her non conformism, that Sexton suffered from a borderline personality disorder. There are reports of her schizophrenic language, for instance, as well as her tendency to enter some sort of trance at the end of her psychiatric treatment sessions. She apparently did not want to end the sessions, perhaps because of emotional and social needs.

Following one of many suicide attempts and breakdowns she worked with therapist Dr. Orne. He diagnosed her with what is now described as bipolar disorder, but his competence to do so is called into question by his early use of allegedly unsound psychotherapeutic techniques. During sessions with Sexton he used hypnosis and sodium pentothal to recover supposedly repressed memories. During this process he allegedly used suggestion to implant false memories of childhood sexual abuse. This abuse was refuted in interviews with her mother and other relatives. However during the writing of Sexton's biography, Sexton's daughter, Linda Gray Sexton confirmed to the book's author that she had been sexually assaulted by her mother.

Sexton made 5 suicide attempts, the 5th being successful. She died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1974. Google if you want to know more about her.

There is a poem she wrote called "Rowing" which seemed to explain the lines at the end where Gabriel talks about "Ann in her little boat". "I am rowing, though the wind pushes me back and I know that that island will not be perfect, it will have the flaws of life, the absurdities of the dinner table, but there will be a door and I will open it and I will get rid of the rat inside me, the gnawing pestilential rat. God will take it with his two hands and embrace it."
"Mercy Street"
for Anne Sexton

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 glass, she pictures the steam
she pictures a soul
with no leak at the seam

lets take the boat out
wait until darkness
let's take the boat out
wait until darkness comes

nowhere in the corridors of pale green and grey
nowhere in the suburbs
in the cold light of day

there in the midst of it so alive and alone
words support like bone

dreaming of mercy street.
wear your inside out
dreaming of mercy
in your daddy's arms again
dreaming of mercy street.
'swear they moved that sign
dreaming of mercy
in your daddy's arms

pulling out the papers from the drawers that slide smooth
tugging at the darkness, word upon word

confessing all the secret things in the warm velvet box
to the priest-he's the doctor
he can handle the shocks

dreaming of the tenderness-the tremble in the hips
of kissing Mary's lips

dreaming of mercy street.
wear your insides out
dreaming of mercy
in your daddy's arms again
dreaming of mercy street.
'swear they moved that sign
looking for mercy
in your daddy's arms

mercy, mercy, looking for mercy
mercy, mercy, looking for mercy

Anne, with her father is out in the boat
riding the water
riding the waves on the sea

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