Jenny Joseph tells us that aging is about wearing purple and giving ourselves permission to express ourselves without fear of consequences.
Poet Jenny Joseph wrote this poem in 1961, later including it in her 1974 collection Rose In the Afternoon. A 1966 BBC poll identified “Warning” as the “most popular post-war poem.” While written from an undeniably western perspective, I am left wondering if it isn’t in fact a universal experience that as we women age, we gain a kind of self-confidence that permits us to step out of the mold, to truly embrace who we are damn the consequences and in an I-don’t-care-what-others-think kind of way. I discovered this poem in about 1994 when I was deep into my women’s studies degree and already loving and believing that all women look fabulous in the colour purple.
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 the 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.
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