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When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat that 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 am 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 beer mats
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 will 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!

Jenny Joseph

About this poem

Joseph's best known poem, "Warning", was written in 1961 when she was 28. First published in The Listener in 1962, "Warning" was later included in her 1974 collection Rose In the Afternoon, in The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse, and in her Selected Poems (1992). The poem became well known in America after Liz Carpenter, (formerly the first woman executive assistant to Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson and Press Secretary to former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson), wrote an article for the Reader's Digest in the early 1980s, about enjoying life having recovered from an illness, closing the article with "Warning". The poem was adopted by the greeting-card industry, led by graphic designer and calligrapher Elizabeth Lucas. Joseph ascribed the popularity of the poem "to her business acumen and energy I owe a hospitable following in California and later throughout northern America, more social, as I said, than literary. "Warning" was identified as the UK's "most popular post-war poem" in a 1996 poll by the BBC. The opening lines "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple, With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me" was the inspiration for the Red Hat Society. Due to its popularity, an illustrated gift edition of "Warning", first published by Souvenir Press Ltd in 1997, has now been reprinted 41 times. "Warning" was included in the anthology Tools of the Trade: Poems for new doctors (Scottish Poetry Library, 2014) and a copy was given to all graduating doctors in Scotland in 2014. Joseph herself hated the colour purple, which is why she included it in the poem. In 2021 the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford announced that the one millionth image from their collections to be digitised by the Digital Bodleian project was Joseph's first draft of "Warning". Source: Wikipedia 

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Written on 1961

Submitted by LinYoest on October 27, 2022

Modified by LinYoest

1:10 min read

Quick analysis:

Closest metre Iambic pentameter
Characters 1,045
Words 231
Stanzas 1
Stanza Lengths 27

Jenny Joseph (Jennifer Ruth Joseph)

Jennifer Ruth Joseph was born on 7 May 1932 in South Hill, Carpenter Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham to Florence (née Cotton) and Louis Joseph, an antiques dealer. The family were non-observant Jews. Her father's career led to the family relocating to Buckinghamshire, and Joseph was evacuated to Devon early during the Second World War. She later credited this experience with her fascination with the changing light. She attended Badminton school in Bristol. She won a scholarship to study English literature at St Hilda's College, Oxford (1950). Her poems were first published when she was at university in the early 1950s. She became a journalist and worked for the Bedfordshire Times, the Oxford Mail and Drum Publications (Johannesburg, South Africa). Her first book of poems, The Unlooked-for Season, won a Gregory Award in 1960 and she won a Cholmondeley Award for her second collection, Rose in the Afternoon, in 1974. Source: Wikipedia more…

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1 Comment
  • Symmetry58
    Truly an amazing poem, Jenny. My only request - might I be present when you go on your excursion? I, too, would love to see you eating 3-pounds of sausage in a terrible shirt. Oh and, have you seen my pens? I seem to have misplaced them. This is nothing short of brilliant. Thank you for opening your heart and mind for us. You are appreciated, Miss. :-) 
    LikeReply 11 month ago
    • LinYoest
      I first read this poem at a railroad museum in Michigan while visiting my sister and her family over 20 years ago. I absolutely loved it. My sister later bought me a purple T-shirt with the poem on it—I still have it. I was never a big fan of purple, but now that I am old . . . I recently bought a purple cellphone and find myself drawn to the royal color. I may begin to practice spitting soon.  
      LikeReply1 month ago


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"Warning" Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2023. Web. 26 Mar. 2023. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/141551/warning>.

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Who wrote the poem ״Invictus״?
  • A. Sylvia Plath
  • B. Thomas Hardy
  • C. Oscar Wilde
  • D. William Ernest Henley