|Marc Chagall, "Dream of Lovers" (1962)|
I am getting to know the author of Mary Poppins. The life of P.L. Travers (the name she chose) was full of shadows and sharp angles that are missing from the delightful Disney movie (though not from all of the Mary Poppins stories she wrote) and of adventures in several worlds. She was an intimate of AE (George Russell), the Irish mystic, a friend of Yeats and Gurdjieff, and no stranger to the rituals of the Golden Dawn, the practices of yogis, and the vision quests of the Plains Indians. She was fascinated by the idea of the double, and came to believe she was leading a double or treble life, in parallel realities.
My current reading includes an excellent recent biography of by Valerie Lawson, published in the United States as Mary Poppins, She Wrote. This contains many surprises. As a young girl in Australia, young Helen Lyndon Goff (as she then was) so longed to be "away" that she approached a gypsy camp near her home and offered a tall blue-robed man one of her sandals, hoping he would whisk her off into another world. The stranger gravely inspected the sandal, and returned it to her, leaving "Lyndon" to make her own way. She disliked her native country, and was stirred by stories of Ireland and England, where she traveled as soon as she was able.
I have also been looking again at a late collection of essays by P.L.Travers, titled What the Bee Knows, that is probably her least-known work. It turned up, placed eccentrically on an unlikely shelf in a used bookshop, through the helpful machinations of a shelf elf. Opening the book at random, I found a beautiful essay “On Forgiving Oneself” that is a marvelous evocation of encountering a Greater Self that proves to be no stranger. I would title it “Meeting the Blue Lady”.
She comes upon her again and again in the woods - a mysterious, beautiful woman in a blue mantle, that reminds her of Demeter and of hyacinths. She is often dancing, or gathering woodland flowers, or meeting with strangers. The day comes when the Blue Lady blocks her path:
Then she thrust a hand under her veil and drew it down from head to shoulder, her face emerging from the blue as the moon slips out from the edge of a cloud.
It was my face...And I knew that I had always known, and at the same time refused to know, what lay between the veil.