Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Poetry Wednesday: Growing Old and the Red Hat Ladies, and Totally Missing the Point - Redux

(Originally posted 1/4/08) I think I was one of the first women in America who discovered the now well-known and well-worn poem “Warning”, 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” (the full poem is found below). Years ago I reviewed the book by the same name for my book club.

Now the Red Hat ladies’ clubs all over the country have co-opted the ideas from the poem, and are wearing admittedly darling red hats and having luncheons – and totally missing the point.

First, the poem is about individuality and breaking the rules – not about getting together with all your chums, dressing alike, and doing conventional things. Second, and maybe more important, it’s about being an individual BEFORE you grow old. Thus, the last line that states, “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.” And indeed, the title itself, "Warning", gives us a clue.

It’s about being an individual at any age. So while all the other old ladies are wearing red hats, I think I'll see if I can find something in tangerine.

Warning
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.


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11 comments:

Michael said...

A great review of a poem that is so often misunderstood. I cant eat 3 lbs of sausages at a go (yet!),but I do sometimes shout at street lights.

I shall look out for your red hat B.

bekkieann said...

Oh what a tummy ache if we did!

Mick, whenever I picture you, it is always shouting at street lights. I do love that edge of craziness.

Bee's Blog said...

I'm practicing already! Well according to my daughter, I am!! But I'm going to wear the purple hat! And maybe a red track suit with 5" heels!!

I shout too - like I did on Sunday - at the uppity woman at the wheel of the four wheel drive who tried to carve me up. See blog!!!

bekkieann said...

You are awesome!

I read your blog alternately with agony and laughter. What a trip!

Kwika said...

I read this poem when you posted it before and loved it then and still do. I'm practicing now too though not with the red hat...can't stand hats but I wear purple tights sometimes with flip flops when I go to town. My sisters look the other way haha. It was only the once girls, GET OVER IT!

bekkieann said...

Purple tights and flip flops! Fantastic. You are definitely in good practice.

Probably the wildest I get is my Hawaiian shirts. They fit my larger size from a few years ago, and so they are mighty loose and comfy to wear now.

We should all give ourselves permission to be eccentric, regardless of how embarrassed our sisters are. Haha!

heatherbelle said...

This is my favourite poem without doubt. I have posted it many times and have it written above my desk.
I love the idea of being totally individual at any age. I love that I may become eccentric without question.
My children have been given a copy so they are prepared.

troutbirder said...

Oh my! I did a post some months ago, tongue in cheek, describing a semi-secret "cult" and wondered what the red hatters were really up to.... My wifes group really enjoyed it. Now I like your explanation but wonder if I pursued it in another post if my survival would be at risk due to mob action?

bekkieann said...

Oh dear, Mr. T, I'd advise treading softly. You never know what they might be capable of. ;-)

Dangerous Meredith said...

I have a felt hat that is covered in faux leapord skin in my cupboard so I am already prepared.

I hadnt read or heard of this poem before so thanks very much for introducing me to it. It made me laugh but I also found it poignant - why do we have to waste our lives being good now?

bekkieann said...

The leopard hat is perfect. And I think we don't need to be so good right now. I know I'm not! :-)