By Kristen Seeber
Women’s Fund of Smith County
A beloved film of my childhood is “Mary Poppins.” I had the joy of seeing it again recently. As is often the case when I re-watch a movie or re-read a book, I came away with a new perspective – noticing nuances I somehow missed before. I’m especially endeared to this musical because it was one of my dad’s all-time favorites. I still can hear him singing “The Life I Lead” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.” This time, though, the song that has stayed with me is “Feed the Birds (Tuppence a Bag.)”
Written by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, “Feed the Birds” is a beautiful allegory, telling of a woman who sits on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral, selling bread crumbs for tuppence a bag to feed the pigeons flocking around her. The bird woman is depicted as a noble figure and a force for good, as she pleads with passersby to give a little of themselves – to do something kind for a creature in need. The setting for “Mary Poppins” is Edwardian London in 1910, and tuppence is two British pence. The soulful nature of a humble character, offering a humble product for a very low price is a picture difficult to forget.
There can be no doubt, “Feed the Birds” is the most important song, thematically, of the film. Others from the soundtrack, like those my dad would whistle, are upbeat, energetic and fun. This tune, however, is played and sung in a more somber, reverent tempo and is used to frame significant moments of the screenplay. Maybe that’s why it spoke to me so much more now, because it is in such stark contrast to the whimsy and magic I remember about the movie as a child. The poignancy of its melodic message has a haunting quality.
The lyrics are a metaphor for the merits of charity. It’s a touching ballad that shines a light on giving, benevolence and compassion. The final verse is: “Though her words are simple and few – listen, listen, she’s calling to you. Feed the birds, tuppence a bag. Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag.”
As a new year begins, I am hoping to become a better listener. Many voices and causes are calling. Pay careful attention, because it’s possible to hear more, learn more from the humble, gentle and earnest pleas. Even a little can mean a lot. Sometimes, feeding the birds makes all the difference.
Kristen Seeber serves as president of the Women’s Fund of Smith County, a giving circle of more than 250 women who collectively provide high impact grants that benefit women and children in our community. The Women’s Fund welcomes new members. To learn more about mission, outreach and membership opportunities, please visit www.womensfundsc.org.