When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.
Jenny Joseph (1932 –
This well-known poem topped the most popular stakes in a 1996 BBC survey. Its popularity led to the formation of the ‘Red Hat Society’.
S1 … In a way this is a ‘list poem’ … JJ lists those slightly disobedient actions that may have crossed her mind at one stage when that she has been conditioned otherwise or told not to do so as a child. I can remember walking home from school when I picked a flower that was hanging over a garden wall, a teacher saw me and I was told off!
S2 … JJ thinks of some outlandish actions that suits her temperament – she obvious likes sausages and pickles!
S3 … reality strikes – she is bound by society expectations and she is young – so her desire for freer personal expression must wait another day
S4 … JJ gives humour to her ending twist … may be to start practising now! – so that others may recognise her later! … balancing the purple of the first line with the purple in the ending line! … and her ending marries so well with the title ‘Warning’.
Apparently Jenny Joseph wrote this poem when she was 29 so she may have been contemplating a future release of freedom to time when she could be a little naughty and a little defiant. Perhaps she was feeling constrained in her current life. Perhaps she knew a few old people that led dull lives. I do like both the expression of defiant nature, and that with age, a careless freedom to do as you please may open up a new life. These sentiments certainly hit immediate recognition with the poetry reading population in the UK.
But looking at ‘purple’ – what is it with this colour? So many ladies of a certain age really like to wear purple – akin to young girls liking pink. Of course ladies that wear this identity by colour are not always the audacious type who may be inclined to gorge themselves on sausages and other delights when you are not looking. So if you see such persons walking down the street they may be leading quite ordinary lives.