Welcome to the third Thursday Gathering of Poetry/National Poetry Month celebration!

This week, Bonny, Kat, Sarah, and I will each be sharing a poem about . . . color. I had fun reading poetry with a “colorful” lens this week. There are so many ways poets talk about color! Sometimes it’s quite a direct connection with color (as in the poem I’m sharing today). But sometimes, it’s much more indirect — maybe just a mention, a hint of color, or a play on words. Or even just a colorful feeling the poem brings to the reader.

The poem I’m sharing today is one I’m sure you’ll be familiar with — at least parts of it. It was the first poem that came to mind when I starting thinking about “poetry” and “color.” Enjoy!

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 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 practise 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 hope you’re enjoying our celebration of National Poetry Month!
Be sure to visit Bonny, Kat, and Sarah to read other colorful poems this week.


Today’s poem (which was written in 1961, by the way) is from my copy of When I Am An Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple,  edited by Sandra Haldeman Martz, and published by Papier Mache Press in 1987. For more information about today’s poet, Jenny Joseph, click here.

(Special note: This book is a lovely anthology of poems, essays, and photographs all focused on aging and women. I’m not sure if it’s still in print but might be available in libraries. I found this particular copy – which I had never seen before – among my mom’s things when I went through them after she died. I’m not sure where or how she came by the book, and was surprised to find it as she was not a fan of poetry. I like to think that one of her friends gifted it to her, maybe? Regardless of its actual provenance, I’m most delighted to have it in my collection today.)

(And another note: When I first shared this poem with my daughter, who was probably in high school at the time, she was flummoxed by the whole concept of the color purple being “something wild” you couldn’t break out until you were old. So I’m going to guess that that element of this poem hasn’t aged all that well for younger generations. But back in 1961 when the poem was written, purple just “wasn’t done” by “respectable” women. I was told – by someone who should have had more sense but didn’t – when I was in my 20s that purple was “the harlot’s color.” I’m serious. And I was wearing purple. Anyway. Times change. The concept here, though? Not so much.)