"Mercy Street" as written by and Peter Gabriel....
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

Let's 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
Looking for mercy
In your daddy's arms again
Dreaming of Mercy Street
'Swear they moved that sign
Looking for mercy
In your daddy's arms

Pulling out the papers from 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 inside 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

Looking for mercy
Looking for mercy
Looking for mercy
Mercy, mercy

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


Lyrics submitted by fez

"Mercy Street" as written by Peter Gabriel

Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

Lyrics powered by LyricFind

Mercy Street song meanings
Add your thoughts

33 Comments

sort form View by:
  • +4
    General CommentThis is one of the most powerful songs I've ever heard. I listened to it for a long time, and I had no clue what it was. I looked it up on the web about a month ago because it was bugging the crap out of me. Yes, it is for/about Anne Sexton. This is what I got from it:

    Anne Sexton was sexually abused by her parents. She was unstable as a child and it only got worse as she grew up. "The dreams made solid and the dreams made real", "all of the buildings and all of the cars were once just a dream in somebody's head" refers to her feeling like her dreams will never come true. When she was in her 20's she tried committing suicide with a piece of "broken glass" and went to see a psychiartist not long after. "She pictures the soul with no leak at the seam" refers to her feeling like there was something missing in her life. I think I read somewhere that her parents died while on vaction. Their boat tipped over and they drowned..."let's take the boat out, wait until darkness." "Nowhere in the corridors of pale green and grey" refers to her looking for mercy in her house in the "suburbs." her psychiatrist encouraged her to write poems to get her anger and sadness out o her system, and it turned out to be what really kept her going in life. The words of her poem "support like bone" in the midst of all the pain in her life. She said in her poem Mercy Street 45 that she was always looking for the street sign... " 'Swear they moved that sign." "Pulling out the papers from the drawers that slide mooth, tugging at the darkness, word upon word"... she is shuffling through her papers trying to find a black sheet, and she jots down her dark feelings. It said in the biography that I took at from the library that her parents urged her not to tell anyone about the things that happened at home. After they died, she felt like she could finally let everything out. She went to a church and confessed to a "a priest--he's the doctor, he can handle the shocks." The shocks are referring to the cruel things her parents did to her. "Dreaming of the tenderness, the tremble in the hips, of kissing Mary's lips"...Mary is Anne Sexton's mother. The biography said that she was always afraid of her parents abandonning her, so she would always shake... "the tremble in the hips." In the second verse, Peter mentions "the steam."
    After her thrid suicide attempt, Anne finally died. She was killed by carbon monoxide in her home. Carbon monoxide is invisible to the naked eye, but steam and carbon monoxide are both gases.

    Well, that is what I think the story is about.

    -Miranda
    musicfreak_12on February 17, 2005   Link
  • +3
    General CommentThe poetry references are well done. I agree with pretty much everything there.
    But, though I appreciate the input of Miranda, she is wildly misinformed.
    "Anne Sexton was sexually abused by her parents." This has actually been denied by every member of Anne's family. Even Anne's own psychiatrist believes that she made up the fact that her father sexually abused her, though it's been included in her biography because her therapist thought it was "real to Anne."
    "When she was in her 20's she tried committing suicide with a piece of "broken glass" and went to see a psychiartist not long after." Actually, this couldn't be more wrong. Yes, she did attempt suicide, but with pills after she gave birth to Linda and not a "piece of broken glass." The broken glass is more likely a reference to the dreams she sees that are now broken.
    "I think I read somewhere that her parents died while on vaction. Their boat tipped over and they drowned..."let's take the boat out, wait until darkness."- Ummm... whoever wrote that needs to be smacked. That couldn't be farther from the truth. Anne Sexton's parents deaths are well documented in her poetry. Her mother died of breast cancer- and her father died from... something wrong with his brain not too long after if I remember correctly what she said in her poems.
    "Nowhere in the corridors of pale green and grey" refers to her looking for mercy in her house in the "suburbs." -I see this as more of a reference to institutions.
    "It said in the biography that I took from the library that her parents urged her not to tell anyone about the things that happened at home. After they died, she felt like she could finally let everything out." -What biography did you read?! This is insanely inaccurate- not even close.
    "She went to a church and confessed to a "a priest--he's the doctor, he can handle the shocks." The shocks are referring to the cruel things her parents did to her." -Actually this is a dual reference: to shock treatment and to the poem "The Kiss" in which she likens sex to ECTs, which makes sense. She told her shrink that the only good thing she could do with her life was to become a prostitute and make men feel powerful. The priest reference is a reference to how much faith she put into the practice of psychiatry.
    "Dreaming of the tenderness, the tremble in the hips, of kissing Mary's lips"...Mary is Anne Sexton's mother. -While yes, this is true, this is most likely a reference to the virgin Mary. Anne, as she grew older, became increasingly more religious, even writing letters to a clergy man who fell in love with her.
    Sorry, I just needed to clear that up...

    As for my personal interpretation, I think this is probably documenting what happened right before Anne died. After she divorced her husband, who was a large part of her life, she realized that she was alone, one of her biggest fears. "looking down on empty streets, all she can see
    are the dreams all made solid
    are the dreams all made real"
    She is looking back on what she used to have... looking back on what she tried desperately to create. Still yearning for Mercy Street, a place that she thinks she can find only in death. So, she kills herself and finally ends that "Awful Rowing Toward God" by joining her father who was abusive, yes but not sexually, emotionally (she had an acute case of acne growing up and he often expressed disgust at her appearance), but who she wanted to love her.
    patquinnchinon May 02, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentJust to clear up any misunderstandings, this song was inspired by the poet Anne Sexton. This is a great song, and on the Growing Up tour, the 4 part harmony is incredible at the beginning!
    classicrockman1on May 29, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentOne of the greatest songs ever written, seriously. Its surreal enough to be open to interpretation, although I think the probable intended meaning is pretty clear -losing one's father in a car wreck. at least, thats what it seems to me. If you havent listened to this song, you really need to.
    Ange*Gaucheon May 11, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General Commentpeter gabriel is mostly remembered for his groundbreaking videos and quirky new wave hits, but his best kept secrets were gems like this choon.

    i think this song was either written about or for Anne Sexton. i would have to look it up.

    but Ange's interpretation certainly seems plausible!
    roger wilcoon June 13, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General Commenti don't think this song is about losing one's father nessecarily. i think it's about the distance that grows between a father and his daughter when she grows to be a woman and does things he doesn't wnt her to do
    catycali83on August 26, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General Commenthaha.
    i saw gabriel twice when he came to town on that tour...both shows were amazing..
    RedRavenon October 17, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis is one of the most powerful songs I've ever heard. I listened to it for a long time, and I had no clue what it was. I looked it up on the web about a month ago because it was bugging the crap out of me. Yes, it is for/about Anne Sexton. This is what I got from it:

    Anne Sexton was sexually abused by her parents. She was unstable as a child and it only got worse as she grew up. "The dreams made solid and the dreams made real", "all of the buildings and all of the cars were once just a dream in somebody's head" refers to her feeling like her dreams will never come true. When she was in her 20's she tried committing suicide with a piece of "broken glass" and went to see a psychiartist not long after. "She pictures the soul with no leak at the seam" refers to her feeling like there was something missing in her life. I think I read somewhere that her parents died while on vaction. Their boat tipped over and they drowned..."let's take the boat out, wait until darkness." "Nowhere in the corridors of pale green and grey" refers to her looking for mercy in her house in the "suburbs." her psychiatrist encouraged her to write poems to get her anger and sadness out o her system, and it turned out to be what really kept her going in life. The words of her poem "support like bone" in the midst of all the pain in her life. She said in her poem Mercy Street 45 that she was always looking for the street sign... " 'Swear they moved that sign." "Pulling out the papers from the drawers that slide mooth, tugging at the darkness, word upon word"... she is shuffling through her papers trying to find a black sheet, and she jots down her dark feelings. It said in the biography that I took at from the library that her parents urged her not to tell anyone about the things that happened at home. After they died, she felt like she could finally let everything out. She went to a church and confessed to a "a priest--he's the doctor, he can handle the shocks." The shocks are referring to the cruel things her parents did to her. "Dreaming of the tenderness, the tremble in the hips, of kissing Mary's lips"...Mary is Anne Sexton's mother. The biography said that she was always afraid of her parents abandonning her, so she would always shake... "the tremble in the hips." In the second verse, Peter mentions "the steam."
    After her thrid suicide attempt, Anne finally died. She was killed by carbon monoxide in her home. Carbon monoxide is invisible to the naked eye, but steam and carbon monoxide are both gases.

    Well, that is what I think the story is about.

    -Miranda
    musicfreak_12on February 17, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentMiranda,

    Very well-written. I agree with almost everything you said. The one difference I got from the song was about the lines:

    "Dreaming of the tenderness-the tremble in the hips
    of kissing Mary's lips."

    In my understanding, that line referred to the priest, recognizing he has his own issues. He longed for the touch and the kiss of a woman. Apparently sworn to celibacy, his desires were only exacerbated by seeing statues of the virgin Mary all over the church. But you might be right. What I read didn't mention much about the parents.

    Then the ending, Anne finally finds the peace she's longing for in the "sea" of death. The "father" is either her earthly father, who preceeded her in death, or God "The Father", waiting for her there, to welcome her home.

    At least, that how I take it.
    bobsmith84on August 01, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentOne other something --

    "Nowhere in the corridors of pale green and grey" could refer to the institution she was put in. To me, the pale greens and greys sounds like the common colors seen in hospitals and mental wards. (Walls, hospital gowns, etc.) She can't find the peace she wants locked up in the hospital OR "in the suburbs in the cold light of day."

    Just an alternate view on that. At any rate, a very powerful and moving song. Nearly brings me to tears every time I hear it.
    bobsmith84on August 01, 2006   Link

Add your thoughts

Log in now to tell us what you think this song means.

Don’t have an account? Create an account with SongMeanings to post comments, submit lyrics, and more. It’s super easy, we promise!

Back to top
explain