“Warning” by Jenny Joseph, written in 1961 was perhaps surprisingly voted the Nation's Favorite Poem in a BBC poll in 1996 – beating off competition from some of the giants in the poetry world.
In the poem, the poet pictures herself as an old woman, inappropriately wearing purple with a red hat; spending all her pension on brandy; running her stick along railings; picking flowers in others gardens; hoarding beermats and generally making up for the sobriety of her youth. She wonders if she ought to practice these things in case she suddenly found herself ‘old’ and wearing purple.
I wonder if life has imitated art as Jenny Joseph will be 80 this year, and hopefully wearing purple and red.
So it got me thinking – Did Burns ever see himself as an old man?
Or did he lead the life he led because he knew old age was never likely to be for him
A Warnin’ An’ A Greetin’
(Wae apologies tae Jenny Joseph)
Well I ken that I will ne’er be that dowie auld man in purple breeks
Who toits an’ totters aboot in a bright red bonnet
My time is aye here and now
An’ both me and the apothecary ken
That nae dip in the Nith nor sup frae the Brow Well
Will mend this poet’s failin’ heart
Do I care a whit that I will ne’er see my dotage?
For seven an’ thirty years, my minutes have been stappit’ fu
I have lived life at a gallop and no a canter
An’ a great mony freends and family shared the ride
Pension or provisions are no part o’ my vocabulary
I hav’na squirreled pennies awa like hazelnuts
When neither pleasant autumns nor harsh winters lie ahead
Instead, my hoard is my poems, tales, sangs an’ sonnets
As for life, abstinence could ne’er be a bedfellow wae notoriety
I’ve aye got pleasure in rattlin’ ma stick alang public railings
Pokin’ ma nib at the birkies
An’ stickin’ ma tongue oot at Holy affairs
I hav’na picked the flooers in ithers gardens
But I ken my seed has too aft been spread
So when sobriety ne’er featured in my youth
I dinna need tae practice fur whit auld age may bring
God formed me wae passions strong an’ wild
An’ listening tae their voice aft leads me wrang
But should folks, in years tae come, e’er tak the time
Tae speak my name or read my words
I hae but one wish
Leave the lifestyle alane an’ look at the legacy
An even if God was tae spare me
To become dowie, stiff an’ crazy wae age....
I still wud’na wear purple