Friday, January 8, 2010

Mary Poppins Comes Back

Most of the birds that have been attracted to my outside bird feeder are what Mary Poppins would call "sparrers." They're little brown birds. One of them has already been caught, killed, and dragged through the cat door into our kitchen. I hope the rest will take warning. It has been great cat entertainment to have a bird feeder hung on the other side of the window from where the parakeet cage used to hang. The cats hide among the potted plants next to that window and peer out, obviously having jungle cat dreams.

The only bird that much assuages my longing to see color and hear chirping is the male cardinal. It's snowed just about every single day since I put the bird feeder outside my window, so there's been lots of action out there.

I keep thinking of Mary Poppins when I see the little brown ones. Nymeth's recent post on reading the first P.L. Travers book made me realize that not everyone has already read the books as children, so here's the excerpt I keep thinking of--from Mary Poppins Comes Back--in which a new little sister to Jane and Michael holds a conversation with two birds:

"Good girl!" croaked the Starling approvingly. He cocked his head on one side and gazed at her with his round bright eye. "I hope," he remarked politely, "you are not too tired after your journey."
Annabel shook her head.
"Where has she come from--out of an egg?" cheeped the Fledgling suddenly.
"Huh-huh!" scoffed Mary Poppins. "Do you think she's a sparrer?"
The Starling gave her a pained and haughty look.
"Well, what is she then? And where did she come from?" cried the Fledgling shrilly, flapping his short wings and staring down at the cradle.
"You tell him, Annabel!" the Starling croaked.
Annabel moved her hands inside the blanket.
"I am earth and air and fire and water," she said softly. "I come from the Dark where all things have their beginning."
"Ah, such a dark!" said the Starling softly, bending his head to his breast.
"It was dark in the egg, too," the Fledging cheeped.
"I come from the sea and its tide," Annabel went on. "I come from the sky and its stars. I come from the sun and its brightness-- --"
"Ah, so bright!" said the Starling, nodding.
"And I come from the forests of earth."
As if in a dream, Mary Poppins rocked the cradle--to-and-fro, to-and-fro with a steady swinging movement.
"Yes?" whispered the Fledgling.
"Slowly I moved at first," said Annabel, "always sleeping and dreaming. I remembered all that I had been and I thought of all I shall be. And when I had dreamed by dream I awoke and came swiftly."
She paused for a moment, her blue eyes full of memories.
"And then?" prompted the Fledgling.
"I heard the stars singing as I came and I felt warm wings about me. I passed the beasts of the jungle and came through the dark, deep waters. It was a long journey."
Annabel was silent.
The Fledgling stared at her with his bright inquisitive eyes.
Mary Poppins' hand lay quietly on the side of the cradle. She had stopped rocking.
"A long journey indeed!" said the Starling softly, lifting his head from his breast. "And, ah, so soon forgotten!"
Annabel stirred under the quilt.
"No!" she said confidently. "I'll never forget."
"Stuff and Nonsense, Beaks and Claws, of course you will! By the time the week's out you won't remember a word of it--what you are or where you came from!"
Inside her flannel petticoat Annabel was kicking furiously.
"I will! I will! How could I forget?"
"Because they all do!" jeered the Starling harshly. "Every silly human except--" he nodded his head at Mary Poppins--"her! She's Different, she's the Oddity, she's the Misfit-- --"
"You Sparrer!" cried Mary Poppins, making a dart at him....
"I don't believe you! I won't believe you!, cried Annabel wildly.

But Annabel does forget where she came from, when she begins to learn to speak to other Humans.

Birds are fierce little things, and I'm glad that the local varieties are getting some unexpected food at my window during these extra-cold and snowy weeks, even if I feel like I should post a "beware of cat" sign for potential diners. What do you think of a cat owner who attracts birds to her yard? I wasn't sure that it was a good idea, but so far one death seems to me an acceptable loss, given the harshness of the winter.


FreshHell said...

I think you are feeding hungry animals. Birds have wings and know how to fly away from predators. It's no different on your porch than anywhere else in the wild. If they aren't quick enough...well, that's life. I'm sure my outdoor cats catch what they can. That's what they do.

As for Mary Poppins, I don't think I ever read the original book. I tried to read it to Dusty once and she didn't like it. MP was too mean for her liking. "She's much nicer in the movie."

Jeanne said...

I love how mean she is in the books. (More on this next week when I review The Willoughbys!)

Anonymous said...

Mr. PQV missed Mary Poppins as a kid but read it to D#1. He found it depressing precisely because of moments like this. I still like it.


Ron Griggs said...

P. L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, grew up in Australia. She became a scholar of Aboriginal stories and legends and wrote an absolutely marvelous book of essays about writing, stories, legends, and mystery called What the Bee Knows.

Since I read that, I've been able to see the echoes of this in the Mary Poppins books. The passage Jeanne quoted contains (for me) a sense of Dream Time and the stories associated with it.

Anonymous said...

Interesting about Dream Time, and it's so very sad when Annabel forgets how to talk to birds. Pooh.

Anonymous said...

(I love how mean she is, too.)

Jenny said...

It's been ages since I read the Mary Poppins books, but I remember that with the starlings so vividly. It broke my heart. I cried the first time I read it.

Nymeth said...

You know, I was a bit on the fence about the rest of the series, because while I liked it I didn't LOVE it...but now I want to read it. And I loved how mean she was too :D

Jeanne said...

Readersguide and Jenny, you might enjoy What the Bee Knows.

Nymeth, I'm glad you're going to read the others; my experience is that the more of them I read at one time, the better I like them. Something about the tone can grow on you.

kittiesx3 said...

I feel a little stupid for not realizing that Mary Poppins the movie was based on a book. After all, I've read almost all of Frank Baum's Oz books. Usually I prefer the book over the movie version, but to FreshHell's point, I don't know about a mean Mary Poppins.

Betty said...

What a lovely passage! I'm going to have to pick up the rest of the books. I'm sure I read the first one a few years back, but I think I need to start on the series again. :-)

And I'm sure the birds appreciate food, even if there is a bit of danger involved!

Jeanne said...

Elizabeth, maybe mean is too strong a word. Strict? Brisk?

Betty, no more casualties so far, and snow is still on the ground, so we're doing a lively business in bird seed.

writtenwyrdd said...

I read these books so many years ago I didn't recall that scene, but it gives me wonderful ideas for my own writing.

Kate said...

That's a wonderful passage, one I go back to again and again. As I recall, P. L. Travers got deeply involved with the teachings of Gurdjieff and the movement that arose from his work.

One of the main points about Mary Poppins was that she was "mean," opaque, remote. She took care of her family, but she was not part of it. The sweetness of the movie's version completely missed the point. Mary Poppins was a powerful figure, and couldn't have been so if she had been "sweet" and accessible.