by Jenny Joseph (1932 – 2018)
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which 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’m 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 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 beermats 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 must 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.
The poem has been described as a treatise on growing old outrageously.
“Warning”, Joseph's best known poem, was written in 1961 and first published in 1962.
"Warning" was identified as the UK's "most popular post-war poem" in a 1996 poll by the BBC.
The second line was the inspiration for the Red Hat Society, an international social organization that was founded in 1998 in the United States for women age 50 and beyond, but now open to women of all ages. Its main purpose is to provide women with opportunities for pleasant social interaction, both for reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. There are more than 25,000 members in the United States and 30 other countries. As of 2011, besides the thousands of chapters in the U.S., there were local chapters of the Society in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, Ecuador, England, Finland, Germany, Greece, Guam, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, Namibia, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, Taiwan, Trinidad and Tobago, and Wales.
Due to its popularity, an illustrated gift edition of "Warning", first published by Souvenir Press Ltd in 1997, has now been reprinted 41 times.