When I Am Old
“When I’m an old woman I shall wear purple,” thus begins Jenny Joseph’s poem Warning, better known as When I am an old woman I shall wear purple. This woman is going to sit on the pavement when she’s tired and go out in her slippers when it’s raining. She’s going to press alarm bells (that last one made me laugh and wonder if she meant literal and figurative alarm bells).
The poem is five stanzas and almost every line proclaims with exuberant specificity what Jenny will do when she’s old. That is, when she believes she can.
“But now,” the fourth stanza begins, and it is followed by “must.” Jenny lists what must done — paying the bills, setting a good example, and the like.
Jenny’s first three stanzas suggest a woman who’s rebelling against how she thinks she ought to behave. I think this is an important imaginative exercise for us all to practice, especially when we hunched over with the weight of musts.
But the character sketch in the first three stanzas of the poem suggests a woman who no longer cares, because to care means there are some musts that come along with it. I think Jenny knows this because in her last stanza, she imagines ways to “be old” in the life she has now. She says she’ll begin now. She’ll express little hints of who she wants to be and how she wants to live so people aren’t shocked when she starts to wear purple. That might be true, but I think the poet is handing us an invitation to “let the old out” in the context (and maybe even the confines) of our musts.
Because maybe old means celebrating in who we are right now instead of wishing and striving for who we might become.
Try It: When I Am Old Prompt
Write an “When I Am Old” poem, but with a twist. When in your day have you relished, even for a moment, being exactly who you are? Let that person out. Here’s one I tried:
For four days, laundry
sits waiting to be folded
I sit on my porch
listening for night
to make its entrance.
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. Here’s one from Megan Willome we enjoyed:
Browse more poetry prompts
I have been a fan of Callie Feyen’s writing for quite some time but I finished this book in almost one sitting. If you have ever been in 8th grade, fallen in love, had a best friend, or loved reading, you will love this book. As the mother of an 8th grader, my other genuine hope is that my son will one day have a teacher as gifted as Callie.