I was meandering around www.poemhunter.com (as I often do when I’m killing time on my laptop) and I came across a poet that I’d never heard of. This is not an altogether unfamiliar experience, but here’s the catch: I in the list of “The Top 500 Poems of All Time”! So I was very surprised to see a poet that I’d never heard of listed as having written number 15. I clicked the link and read the poem, and here it is:
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.
How much fun is this poem? My wife and I love to laugh at the old ladies in their Red Hats and purple pantsuits; we get a good chuckle at their “kid at heart” mentality, knowing full well that she could one day be among them. But the voice in this poem is hilarious. She knows that she’ll be cranky and cheap when she gets old, and so she’s setting the stage for it now “so people who know me are not too shocked and surprised/ when suddenly I am old and start to wear purple.” What a great concept.
Today we are younger, and thus, have to be more responsible. We can’t do the things that the clichéd “old lady” does because we have to appear mature and “adult.” Why is it that it’s socially acceptable for an old man to take the sugar packets from the restaurant table but if I did it I’d be arrested for petty theft? I’m only half joking, but the idea is true nonetheless. Do the elderly do the strange things they do (as noted in the first two stanzas) because they have forgotten the social norms or do they do them as a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy? Do they realize that the arrogant young (me) make fun of them behind their backs and not care? Or are they ignorant of how they are perceived? I would try to pose these questions to my grandparents (my pop-pop Fred is turning 90 next month) but something tells me I wouldn’t get a serious answer. He’d probably look at me as though he didn’t understand—which makes me wonder if he does understand and just chooses not to give an answer….
Whatever the answer, I’m glad that I found this poem. I tried to look up the author but I haven’t had much luck with it yet.