Jenny Joseph (Jennifer Ruth Joseph) 1932 (Birmingham)
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!
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 more »
Written on 1961
Submitted by LinYoest on October 27, 2022
Modified by LinYoest
- 1:10 min read
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|Closest metre||Iambic pentameter|
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Use the citation below to add this poem to your bibliography:
"Warning" Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2023. Web. 26 Mar. 2023. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/141551/warning>.
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