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Warning by Jenny Joseph and On Ageing by Maya Angelou

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Warning by jenny joseph is a humorous way of looking towards old age. It is written as a monologue within which the poet describes how she will behave when she is an old woman.

In The first stanza she talks about herself and lists all the things she will do when she is old. She says she will wear the colours purple and red which are significant in the fact that they are bright garish colours. The two colours clash with each other and would not be put together by someone who cares about keeping up their appearance. One of the main themes to this poem is the idea of rebelling against the way society expects you to behave and the idea of not conforming therefore she decides to deliberately make a statement with her appearance by wearing clashing colours to show rebellion against the idea of everyone looking the same- everyone conforming. This idea of rebellion is further emphasised when she says “I shall spend my pension on brandy… and say we’ve no money for butter”. She has decided that she is going to be deliberately difficult and irresponsible. She is desperate to rebel against the norms of responsible adulthood and change the way she has always been ” escape from the sobriety of my youth” .

The acts she chooses are harmless and humorous and she will be likely to get away with them as people will think she is senile. The fact that all of these things are what she wants to do in the future shows that she has never done this before and so she could be saying that old age is the time for freedom and to escape from the rules in society. However this could also show that she is only able to do these things with the excuse of being elderly. She would never feel comfortable to break the rules without having the excuse of being senile etc hence why she is waiting until old age to do these things showing that she is still trapped in the rules of society. This shows the underlying more depressing image behind the humour that society doesn’t allow for freedom and the message of how the pressure there is to conform prevents you from being yourself.

All of the lines in the poem run on with a quick pace into each other reflecting the excitement and anticipation for the things she talks about doing. Throughout she repeats “and” and “I” which also adds to the pace and energy of the poem. The second stanza itself is one long sentence in which she directly addresses the reader with words of encouragement. She wants other people to feel and be able to do whatever they like without worrying about the social pressures of conformity, she could be thinking that if everyone does this then eventually those pressures will not be a problem anymore.

However in the third stanza she reverts to the present and begins with “but” which acts as a drive word in that it changes the mood of the poem even though the pace remains the same. The list like form to the poem now reverts to a complaint opposed to a positive proposal for the future. The word “we” suggests a collective term for everyone and for shared responsibility showing that whilst young it is essential to keep up appearances and to carry out your responsibilities to society which she is unhappy about. However in the last stanza she says ” but maybe I ought to practise now” this yet again changes the tone to the poem and also the pace, she is now thoughtful as the rebellious mischievous tone returns and she considers breaking the rules of society right now. This ends the poem positively with the sense of hope and excitement.

On ageing my maya angelou also looks at the process of ageing. However in her poem she doesn’t look at old age as a change instead she makes the point that the person behind the ageing exterior is still the same person they always were, she is making the point that she does not want people to treat her differently now she is older because she is still the same person she always was- she doesn’t want people to pity her. She shows this when she says “hold! Stop! Don’t pity me!/ Hold! Stop your sympathy” the use of punctuation and repetition gives these lines a tone of anger and upset. The exclamation marks make it sound like she is shouting at the reader. Giving the impression that this what she wants to say to people who treat her with sympathy / treat her differently because she is elderly.

Whilst joseph promotes age as a positive thing Angelou has a very negative defensive tone to her poem. The images she depicts are not humorous and light hearted as they are in joseph’s poem but are that of pain and weakness. “When you see me walking, stumbling, ..” When thinking of someone stumbling the image would be of someone weak and helpless or someone who has lost control of their body e.g. someone who is drunk. This hints at the idea of the persons mind being less capable and this deterioration in someone’s body and mind would result in them needing to be looked after and the poet doesn’t want people thinking this about her. “don’t study and get it wrong”. She doesn’t want people to study her external features such as a stumbling walk and come to the wrong conclusion that her spirit and mind are also “stumbling” because they are not. She wants people to know that just because age has taken a toll on her body her spirit is still as strong as always.

This is shown in the final stanza when she goes on to say ” I’m the same person I was back then/A little less hair, a little less chin, A lot less lungs and much less wind” . Here she is saying that although people age physically the mind does not have to. She may have the appearance of an elderly person in that her hair has got thinner, her skin is sagging and her lungs do not work as well but her mind is still as attentive alive and eager as it was when she was young. This saddens the reader because it gives the impression of this young mind being trapped inside an old body unable to do the things she wants it do- showing the misery of old age which is a direct contrast to the views of Joseph who has the opposite view of old age being a time for freedom and to break out of the prison of societies rules.

However Angelou does finish with positivity and determination ” but aint I lucky I can still breathe in” she doesn’t use a question mark which allows her to ask a question that makes the reader think whilst making a positive statement- it is the mind not the body that is important. The ageing person still has a spirit and a mind, they are still alive and therefore still fully human and just as important as they were when they were young.

Both poems address the concept of old age. joseph has not yet reached old age but talks in positive anticipation of the freedom from society she feels old age will provide her. Whilst in On Ageing Angelou has reached old age and is expressing her upset at the fact that when people look at her they don’t see past the ageing exterior to see the spirit and person she really is.

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