“Warning”-A poem by Jenny Joseph


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.

I love this poem not for the beauty of its imagery or the music of its singsong lines, that have a strange lyrical beauty. The young woman imagines herself in a situation she will find herself in decades later.In imagining herself as an old woman she gives herself all the attributes one associates with an old woman,in common perception. But not out of self-pity but from a sheer sense of release, freedom from what a young person is supposed to be.

Conformance to a social type is tyranny of the hive mind .A young person experiences its oppressiveness throughout the younger years and it is only the old age that gives them freedom to express and be their own selves the way they want to,not like how the peers look and behave.

1) When you are old you do not need to wear clothes that make a statement.Nor do you have to wear outlandish clothes because everybody else wears them and together you all make a statement.

2)When you are old you need not have to carry the stigma of not paying rent ,of wearing shabby clothes,of setting examples to children etc. You do not even invite friends to dinner and read the papers.

3) The biggest adavantage is that you can squat on the footpath if you are tired, go out in slippers in rain, spit anywhere to to your heart’s content.

4) You can buy brandy and eat sausages , exhausting your meager pension, and with the least worry about getting fat.

The old woman has little stake in life and it does not really matter to her what everybody thinks of her.But remember this is how the young person imagines what an old woman’s life would be like. Is it correct to think that an old person feels she has no further stake in life? That it does not really matter how she behaves and whether she is a subject of ridicule?

But that is not what the poet seems to say but rather that you feel stifled to be a young person with all those stereotyping that goes with it. A young person who thinks she has a greater stake in life is forced to conform to the stereotype, the shackles of which leave nothing for individual improvisation. You have to be either a conformist with all its boring traits or are a rebel with equally mind-numbing protocols.

All this is preparation to old age, that is a long way off. Does old age come so suddenly and one starts wearing purple? Surely , for the sake of other people, one has to practise a little at being old right now so that they will not be shocked to see her suddenly in purple clothes.She has the tongue in her cheek.Dont they start wearing purple too?

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