A Rose for Mary Poppins and P.L. Travers

Mary Poppins Rose

The rose was P.L. Travers’s favourite flower. For her it was “the flower of all flowers, furled and curled, never giving anything away.

A daisy is the child’s favourite. It’s so open. The daisy and the rose are the two ends of the stick. The rose is never, until the last moment unfolded.

P.L. Travers, Saturday Review, November 7, 1964

This is what P.L. Travers told Haskel Frankel on a gray November day, sitting in “a darkish corner” of a New York restaurant.

If Frankel knew about P.L. Travers’s spiritual life, her comment about “the two ends of the stick” would have, undoubtedly, prompted him to ask different questions, but Frankel was unaware of P.L. Travers’s allegiance to G.I. Gurdjieff and his spiritual teachings.

Two ends of the stick” was an expression used by Gurdjieff to illustrate the polarities of life. P.L. Travers used it often in her interviews, and in her writings.  In this instance, she uses the differences in the physical attributes of the daisy and the rose as an illustration of two radically different attitudes towards life: that of the child, and the other of the adult. On one end there is innocence and trust, and on the other, vulnerability and the need for self-protection. However, if we choose to look at this metaphor not as a fixed image but as a flowing movement from the daisy towards the rose, we can understand something about the way P.L. Travers might have experienced her own process of maturation. It would have been interesting to discuss with her the possibility to use both ends of the stick, just like a funambulist.

Before the interview P.L. Travers’s publisher Harcourt, Brace & World sent Frankel a copy of the then newly issued, one-volume edition of Mary Poppins and Mary Poppins Comes Back. He found a note in the book with P.L. Travers’s conditions on interviews. He had to read her books and he was not allowed to ask personal questions.

P.L. Travers explained to Frankel that she does not want any personal questions because “they take away from the feeling of anonymity which I need for my writing.”  And, at the end of their meeting, she left the restaurant leaving behind the following statement: “Intimate life is the only life I can bear. I’m not interested in the passing scene because it passes.” She knew how to exit a scene on a dramatic note.

Despite her refusal to talk about her private life, P.L. Travers revealed one of her intimate wishes. She told Frankel that her greatest joy would be to have a rose named after her. “A Pamela Travers rose. Wouldn’t that be nice? Or even better, a Mary Poppins rose.

P.L.Travers Rose

A beautiful wish that came true. Dr. Dennison Morey, a rose grower from California, happened to read P.L. Travers’s interview in the Saturday Review,  and he wrote to her. A correspondence ensued, and two years later, he bred two roses: one named Pamela Travers and the other named Sleeping Beauty. Why Sleeping Beauty? Because Sleeping Beauty was P.L. Travers’s favourite fairy tale, and because in some versions of the story Sleeping Beauty is called Briar Rose. And let’s not forget that her sleep in the castle is guarded by a thick hedge of thorny roses.

A year later, in 1967, Dr. Morey bred a third rose. This time he named it Mary Poppins. 

This occurrence in P.L. Travers’s life is pure magic at work. The fulfillment of her whimsical wish is just so serendipitous. It makes me wonder, is it just a question of luck, or is there some secret process to manifestation that cannot be set into motion without a sincere, heartfelt wish? There is also something else, something that deserves to be pondered on, something about the necessity of making the wish known to the world.

May all our heartfelt wishes come true. Happy Valentine’s Day to all!


Categorized as Biography