The Poor Old Lady (La Pobre viejecita)

The Poor Old Lady by Lorenzo Jaramillo on the 1901 edition of the book Moral Tales for Formal Children by Rafael Pombo. The Poor Old Lady by Lorenzo Jaramillo, 1901. The Poor Old Lady is a fairy tale, best known in Latin America. It was first published in the book Moral Tales for Formal Children in 1854 by the Colombian poet Rafael Pombo. Due to the importance and impact of this play in Latin American children Latin American literature of the nineteenth century, "The Poor Old Lady" became one of the most memorable characters in the Colombian and Latin American childhood. This paradoxical but amusing story is still reprinted in compilations of children stories and nursery rhymes.

Plot of the story

"The Poor Old Lady" tells the story of a rich old lady who has everything (clothes, goods, food.). However, in each verse of the story she is described as someone who complains about having nothing. At the end, the poor old lady dies from all the alleged complications which she had. In an ironic way the story ends with a particular phrase: “God grant that we can enjoy the poverty of that poor lady and die from the same ill.”


The story revolves around a unique character, the poor old lady, which is based on a commonly known social stereotype.


Like all tales and rhymes of Rafael Pombo, "The Poor Old Lady" teaches children about everyday aspects of human beings and society. Women and their insatiable desire to have many shoes and dresses, and in a deeper layer this story deals with a main aspect: the human greed and exposes that material things are not the most important stuff in life.

The poor old lady explores 2 very basic human ensigns:

  • ungratefulness and undermining of what she had
  • the constant see of what she lacks of.

Negative or positive ensigns? For many she was just a greedy lady that never noticed what she had was more than what many others had. But we could imagine also that an old lady like her probably would have tried along her life all kind of drinks, and meals and shoes and beds and seats, which would have made of her a truly curious and exploratory person, perhaps insatiable.


English and Spanish
Rafael Pombo's version[1]

The Poor old Lady

Once upon a time there was an old lady
With nothing to eat,
But meat, fruit, sweets,
Cakes, eggs, bread and fish.

She drank broth, chocolate,
Milk, wine, tea and coffee,
And the poor woman could not find
What to eat or what to drink.

And this old woman did not have
Not a little hut in where to live
But a large house
With its vegetables plot and its garden

No one, nobody cared for her
But Andrés and Juan Gil
And eight servants and two pages
with livery and bow-tie.

She never had anything to sit on
But chairs and sofas
With benches and cushions
And springs on the back.

Not another bed than a big one
More golden than an altar,
With soft feather mattress
A lot of silk and a lot of frills.

And this poor old lady
Every year, until her end,
She had one more year of age
And one year less to live.

And when looking herself in the mirror,
It always scared her there
Another old lady with glasses,
Little hat and a toupee.

And this poor old lady
Did not have what to dress,
But dresses of thousand styles
And of thousand and thousand fabrics.

And if not for his shoes,
Flip-flops, boots and booties,
Barefoot on the floor
was walking this wretch.

Appetite never had
When finishing eating,
Nor enjoyed complete health,
When she was unwell.

She died of wrinkle disease,
Already bent like a three,
And never complained again
Neither of hunger nor of thirst.

And this poor old lady
When she died, she left no more,
But money, jewels, lands, houses,
Eight cats and a turpial bird.

Rest in peace, and God allows
That we could enjoy
The poverty of that poor woman
And die as bad as she did.

La Pobre Viejecita

Érase una viejecita
Sin nadita que comer
Sino carnes, frutas, dulces,
Tortas, huevos, pan y pez

Bebía caldo, chocolate,
Leche, vino, té y café,
Y la pobre no encontraba
Qué comer ni qué beber.

Y esta vieja no tenía
Ni un ranchito en que vivir
Fuera de una casa grande
Con su huerta y su jardín

Nadie, nadie la cuidaba
Sino Andrés y Juan Gil
Y ocho criados y dos pajes
De librea y corbatín

Nunca tuvo en qué sentarse
Sino sillas y sofás
Con banquitos y cojines
Y resorte al espaldar

Ni otra cama que una grande
Más dorada que un altar,
Con colchón de blanda pluma,
Mucha seda y mucho olán.

Y esta pobre viejecita
Cada año, hasta su fin,
Tuvo un año más de vieja
Y uno menos que vivir

Y al mirarse en el espejo
La espantaba siempre allí
Otra vieja de antiparras,
Papalina y peluquín.

Y esta pobre viejecita
No tenía que vestir
Sino trajes de mil cortes
Y de telas mil y mil.

Y a no ser por sus zapatos,
Chanclas, botas y escarpín,
Descalcita por el suelo
Anduviera la infeliz

Apetito nunca tuvo
Acabando de comer,
Ni gozó salud completa
Cuando no se hallaba bien

Se murió del mal de arrugas,
Ya encorvada como un tres,
Y jamás volvió a quejarse
Ni de hambre ni de sed.

Y esta pobre viejecita
Al morir no dejó más
Que onzas, joyas, tierras, casas,
Ocho gatos y un turpial

Duerma en paz, y Dios permita
Que logremos disfrutar
Las pobrezas de esa pobre
Y morir del mismo mal

Modern uses and adaptations

The poor old lady is one of the most recognized characters of the Colombian culture, and is commonly used in elementary school textbooks, nursery rhymes, and child literature compilations.

In 1977, Fernando Laverde performed the animated film version of this story, which is considered the first animated film created in Colombia.

Representations of the character are used in parades and carnivals. In recent years, the theme parks Mundo Aventura and Colombian National Coffee Park have used animatronics versions of "The Poor Old Lady".[2][3][4]


  1. "La Pobre Viejecita".
  2. The Walrus. "I AM THE WALRUS: La Pobre Viejecita: Una Rareza del Cine Animado Colombiano". Retrieved 2012-02-20.
  3. "Rafael Pombo". 1999-02-22. Archived from the original on 2012-02-08. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
  4. "Rafael Pombo". Retrieved 2012-02-20.
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