In my dream,
drilling into the marrow
of my entire bone,
my real dream,
I’m walking up and down Beacon Hill
searching for a street sign —
namely MERCY STREET.
Not there.

I try the Back Bay.
Not there.
Not there.
And yet I know the number.
45 Mercy Street.
I know the stained-glass window
of the foyer,
the three flights of the house
with its parquet floors.
I know the furniture and
mother, grandmother, great-grandmother,
the servants.
I know the cupboard of Spode
the boat of ice, solid silver,
where the butter sits in neat squares
like strange giant’s teeth
on the big mahogany table.
I know it well.
Not there.

Where did you go?
45 Mercy Street,
with great-grandmother
kneeling in her whale-bone corset
and praying gently but fiercely
to the wash basin,
at five A.M.
at noon
dozing in her wiggy rocker,
grandfather taking a nap in the pantry,
grandmother pushing the bell for the downstairs maid,
and Nana rocking Mother with an oversized flower
on her forehead to cover the curl
of when she was good and when she was…
And where she was begat
and in a generation
the third she will beget,
me,
with the stranger’s seed blooming
into the flower called Horrid.

I walk in a yellow dress
and a white pocketbook stuffed with cigarettes,
enough pills, my wallet, my keys,
and being twenty-eight, or is it forty-five?
I walk. I walk.
I hold matches at street signs
for it is dark,
as dark as the leathery dead
and I have lost my green Ford,
my house in the suburbs,
two little kids
sucked up like pollen by the bee in me
and a husband
who has wiped off his eyes
in order not to see my inside out
and I am walking and looking
and this is no dream
just my oily life
where the people are alibis
and the street is unfindable for an
entire lifetime.

Pull the shades down —
I don’t care!
Bolt the door, mercy,
erase the number,
rip down the street sign,
what can it matter,
what can it matter to this cheapskate
who wants to own the past
that went out on a dead ship
and left me only with paper?

Not there.

I open my pocketbook,
as women do,
and fish swim back and forth
between the dollars and the lipstick.
I pick them out,
one by one
and throw them at the street signs,
and shoot my pocketbook
into the Charles River.
Next I pull the dream off
and slam into the cement wall
of the clumsy calendar
I live in,
my life,
and its hauled up
notebooks.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Anne Sexton's poem 45 Mercy Street

7 Comments

  1. Vasiliy says:

    All of her poems are vivid,anyway. How can I understand poems? I read it and all i see is freaky stuff, I’m troubled too but her poems are just so creepy!!

  2. Happy Like A Suicidal Teen Tragedy says:

    This piece really is extremely…I can’t think of a word. Anne Sexton probably could, she’s so precise, encapsulating so much meaning in just a few well-chosen words. She’s who I aspire to be, her style, her imagination, everything! She’s really an incredible poet, and I especially liked this piece. (I also reccommend “The Kiss”.)

  3. Elias Rodriguez says:

    I can relate to Ann in this poem. I think all of the past comments have touched on it, so there is really nothing that I could bring to the table that is new or refreshing. For me, the poem is about forgiveness, and regaining innocence… What happens when person realizes that they have come to hate their life and who they have become? How do you recover from that? How do you gain the love for yourself that you know you should have? I think that the poem is about searching for healing, healing a broken life, and healing the past. The poem is about the search for the self, at least in my mind it is. All I can say is that if I had the chance to have meet Ann, I would have told her that she is not alone, and when you take the first step to find the true self, that it is scary and a lonely path.

  4. Christine says:

    I’m not sure when this poem was written, the chronology of Sexton’s having babies and her marriage falling apart. But this poem touches me deeply, as a woman, married with children – I believe it conveys the guilt and self-loathing that go along with being such a “failure” as a mother and wife (as Sexton believed that she was). The writer longs for a place (symboliclly, and mostly psychologically) where she can be innocent again, and worth of mercy and love. A place where she can love herself as child, the way that parents and grandparents do. A place where things are in their place and everything is managed for her. A place that is safe and not overwhelming with responsiblities and commitments.

    This is a beautiful piece, really.

  5. Patrick M says:

    Very deep and troubled woman Ann was. She had a history of mental problems and her marriage was destroyed because of it and she lost her suburban life and her husband divorced her. She lost everything and the only thing she had left was her childhood memories of home and she could no longer find 45 Mercy Street. Do some history examination and you’ll understand a poets heart and work, which is an artist painting with words to describe the deep groaning of their souls.

  6. NobodyGrl says:

    I find this poem completely amazing. This was the first poem I ever read of Anne Sexton’s. I had never heard of her other than mentions in books I had read about Sylvia Plath. Then I heard Peter Gabriel’s “Mercy Street” which is dedicated to Anne Sexton. What can I say…his song and this poem blew me away.

    I think this poem is about lost childhood….the happiness we feel and the wish as an adult to regain some of it. I can completely relate. It is also, for me, about feeling lost and trying to connect with something so as you feel anchored, in this case the connection being family. In her life she feels lost and she thinks that if she had some sort of connection (in this instance the old family home) then things would be better.

    I am sure there is much more to it than what I think I see but that is the beauty of confessional poetry: you can’t really analyse it too much because it’s true meaning is known only to the author.

  7. Sarah says:

    I’m doing a report on Anne Sexton and when i read this poem it showed so much emotion. I think that it’s supposed to be a memory or something about the past. Whatever it is, it’s very vivid.

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