∞ musical numbers: Feed the Birds (from Mary Poppins; music and lyrics by the Sherman Brothers)
The strikingly melancholic images of the Lady of the Birds breathes life into this folk-esque lullaby. Delivered with a serene clarity and divine purity by the image of perfection Julie Andrews in her Academy Award-winning performance as Mary Poppins, “Feed the Birds” captures the dark undercurrent of a bleak reality in one still snapshot, free of the burden of time. That’s what this song is - it’s an afterthought, a dream, a memory, an idea - still and unmoving but for the flapping of the feathered wings of her diseased companions. It is an extension of a thought, a prayer, an illustrated idea put to music, existing only in the precious and serene moments before sleep.
The song’s eerie folk feel entrances the listener by tapping into a memory of a time and place we’ve never been, but feels familiar; of a lost soul we’ve never met, but we feel we know. Because this lonesome, simple Queen of the Lord’s quiet castle steps exists everywhere, unnoticed in the background in every time and place. She is simple and solitary, living repetitively a fraction underneath reality as if stuck in a time warp of her own, or of society’s, making. Yet, she is a rock-solid steady constant, remaining through even after all else is gone and changed, much like the cathedral itself. She always remains there, selling her wares. She is an offcut of reality, selling the offcuts of bread, discarded and unworthy until someone truly sees her and shows her kindness.
The Bird Lady is one of the most mysterious images in musical theatre, capturing imaginations every time new energy is breathed into her song. There are no answers to the questions of her existence, and so forever still she remains, a striking presence upon the musical theatre catalogue, as an image of all those forgotten by time and love, pleading ceaselessly for charitable acknowledgement. Like a broken clock whose second hand is stuck ticking away but not moving.
There are hints of wonder in the journey we take through the looking glass, into her still, isolated world within Poppins’ world within our own. We are taken through the portal of the silver screen and into the snow globe, a magnifying glass view of a smaller-than-life existence. Anywhere you are, “listen, listen” and you will hear her “calling to you”. She is not pleading for a saviour, but for a tenderness of understanding that can only be reached once you buy her curious wares. “Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag”. Trapped in a sub-reality that only the childlike can see. You can’t save her but you can try to save people from the inabilities that inform them and their ice-cold, incompassionate lives. She reveals the contrast between emotional and material poverty and stone-cold wealth that keeps her separate from Mr. Banks’ New World of compulsive banking and obsessive money-making. They are blind.
The religious symbolism stings the heart as her guardian angels of stone are the constant audience to her never-ending hymn. The uniquely Anglican themes that she illustrates in her “calling” for divine charity reflects the typical Britishness of the film itself. This is at the core of the song, and at the core of that Anglican charity is the unnamed Bird Woman’s curious and saddening humanity. There is some divinity in the Woman’s silence and in Poppins’ calm.
The way the music frames the film is illustrative of the song’s emotional importance. The melody orchestrally resurfaces eerily throughout the film multiple times, reminding the audience of the dream-like atmosphere inside that water-filled dome as a metaphor for the whole film. The resident within the snow globe illustrates why Poppins came. She is an embodiment of the beauty of kindness and charity from the human heart and why it matters. All you must do is look, see, and truly care.
"Walt Disney would turn around in his chair and stare out the window, like the first time we played it for him, and he would say “Play it" and we would. One time just as we were almost finished, under his breath, I heard Walt say ‘yep. That’s what it’s all about.’ Everything we do at Disney. That’s what it’s all about."