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Warning -- Jenny Joseph

(Poem #716) Warning
 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 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 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 practice 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
A refreshingly unrepentant poem about growing old... it does offer a wee bit
of editorializing on the subject of society's attitude towards the aged (and
fixation with appearances), but it's basically just a charming piece of
whimsy, and deserves to be appreciated for that and that alone.


PS. I seem to remember "Warning" being voted the most popular post-war poem
in England, in some newspaper survey or the other... so that puts it right
up there with "Daffodils" and "If" and other perennial favourites.

[From the-sublime-to-the-ridiculous dept.]

Another, errm, 'poem' attributed to Jenny Joseph has been making the rounds

 "A Warning from an Old Lady"

 If I had to live life over
 I'd try to make more mistakes next time
 I would relax, I'd limber up
 I would be sillier than I have been on this trip
 I know of very few things I would take seriously
 I would be crazier, I would be less hygienic
 I would take more chances
 I would take more trips
 I would climb more mountains
 Swim more rivers
 And watch more sunsets.
 I would eat more ice cream and less beans
 I'd pick more daisies

        -- NOT Jenny Joseph
        [actually, it's based on an essay by a certain Dan Herold, whoever
he is]

The above effusion is a typical example of the annoyingly sentimental guff
that seems to proliferate on the Internet; needless to say, I consider it
almost completely bereft of poetic merit. Nonetheless I find it interesting
because of the way Joseph's name has come to be associated with it -
interesting because it does echo at least a few of the ideas underlying
Joseph's original poem [1]. A fascinating example of symbiotic memes...

[1] while completely missing the point of the latter, of course. And being
desperately unfunny to boot.


Pete Davis' "For Jenny Joseph and Anne Davis" offers the point of view of an
innocent bystander watching an "An old woman in a beauty parlor / standing
on her head, up to her ears / in shampoo, singing Joy To The World "... the
final couplet is especially funny:
I don't know who Anne Davis is, though.

There are lots of poems about aging on the Minstrels, none of which I can
remember right now. You can browse the entire list at

[A Very Brief Biography]

 b 1932.
 Poet and prose writer.

Joseph has been writing since 1961 (her first publication was The
Unlooked-for Season, a volume of poetry). In 1974 she won the Cholmondely
award for Rose in the Afternoon. Other volumes include: The Thinking Heart
(1978) and Beyond Descartes (1983). She also writes for children.

        -- Bloomsbury Dictionary of English Literature

37 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Jeanne Morales said...

I have loved this poem for many, many years and have a framed copy hanging in my bedroom.
It is a favorite of all my sisters and my best friend. We all plan to wear red and purple as much as possible.

Paul Hambleton said...

I love this poem, if not for the simple fact I do wear a LOT OF PURPLE, although it must be said with a short red skirt!!

This was read out at a friends wedding and it was met with lots of chortling and clapping, because we knew that Emma would indeed wear purple and red and that Aidan would indeed eat sausages and collect strange and wonderful items in small boxes.
Yes, I love this poem.
Definately a fav.

Paula 1967 Allum

James Lawrence said...

I love this poem also! Jenny Joseph was brilliant when she wrote this piece. When I am old woman I will wear purple.........
I am trying hard to find a "framed copy" as you state you have hanging in your home. Where did you find it? I have been looking everywhere!!!
Please help this old woman explain her ideas by letting me know where I might find a framed copy!
Thank you ever so much,
Terri Lawrence
3722 S. Pacific Hwy
Medford, OR

ZippyOffRainbow said...

this poem is just something else...i was a woman returner at college and to
differentiate between old and young, our tutor made this poem an essential
read when we all first started...and then 'Purple Day' was born. one day
every year we had to wear the most outrageous purple things we could possibly
lay our hands on and we even made it into the local paper with it!! Copies of
this poem were pinned up everywhere and it became a kind of institution!!
everywhere you look in my house, i have purple (if i can manage it!) have
even changed my christmas tree trimmings to complete..yep..PURPLE!!

well done on posting this on the web and thank you for me being able to have
a secret slight smile to myself!!

P.S. have you noticed that they have now used a section of it on a national
television advert??!!

perret said...

Terrific. A defiant poem about real wishes in a real world shaped by the real fear of growing old.

Tavani said...

My mother has had this poem hanging on her wall for sometime. She and all
who read it said that Jenny Joseph must have had my mother in mind when
writing this. The poem captured the essence of my mother in great detail.
Unfortunately my mother died in March 2003. I felt it fitting to read this
poem at the funeral services. It brought smiles to the faces of all who
knew her. Living with my mother was like a never ending episode of "I Luv
Lucy". I have a copy of the poem. When I miss my mother I read this to
myself to get a chuckle. Just as she would have wanted it.

Frederick J. Tavani, Jr.,

GBent35191 said...

My Mother passed away suddenly Christmas Eve 2002. She had sent me a copy of
this poem several times and mentioned it more than once to explain her
"unusual" personality. When the weather warmed up and I started looking for
something to plant on her grave, purple thrift seemed the obvious choice.
Mom would have loved the thought and the fact that I was doing it to
celebrate her unique spirit. I am sure she is up there with he gossamer
angels wings, which don't really match her purple dress and red hat...all
with her bright red hair! :)

James said...

My seventeen year old grandson has just shown me this poem. It's wonderful and full of truisms

Bernice said...


The other day some of us ladies were out having coffee at the local cafe and this topic came up and I found it interesting as I'd never heard of it before , So I had to surf the net and see what they were talking about , I found lots to read and did enjoy the poem Warning by Jenny Joseph , about wearing red hats and purple , guess I've reached the age were I learn new things again .

IRDAR said...

I have just lucked out on a copy of "When I am an Old Woman" at my local
thrift store. Could I possibly scan this and e-mail it to you? I have a pretty
nice scanner and I believe it would do a wonderful job. Let me know... I
certainly don't mind at all. Sincerely, Darla

Lorraine Kerzner said...

Type out a copy on nice paper - mat it and a simple black frame and voila' you have a framed copy of a brillant poem.


WAnthony said...

With Apologies to Poet Jenny Joseph

One Man's Warning

When I am an old gent, I shall wear purple
With outfits which don't match, and don't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on frivolity and summer outings
And impractical shoes, and say I've no money for Cable.
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 barefoot in the rain
And pick the flowers in other peoples' gardens
And be a perfect curmudgeon.

One can wear terrible shirts and grow more portly
And eat three pizzas at a go
Or only bread and pineapple for a week
And hoard pens and hotel soaps and things in boxes.

For now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear too much in the street
And set a good example for the youth.
We must have friends to tea and read the news.

But maybe I ought to practice a little more now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and insist on wearing purple.

TAMBISH said...

If you still are offering...I'd love to have a copy of this. I had ordered
it on line for my mother for Christmas....but as Christmas is tomorrow and it
isn't here, it looks like she won't be getting it.

Thank you!

Plmcdowell said...

You wrote:

From: IRDAR@

I have just lucked out on a copy of "When I am an Old Woman" at my local
thrift store. Could I possibly scan this and e-mail it to you? I have a
nice scanner and I believe it would do a wonderful job. Let me know... I
certainly don't mind at all. Sincerely, Darla

While I recognize theis message was NOT directed to me, I would genuinely
appreciate receiving a scanned copy of the poem.


Pat Lewis McDowell
Shreveport, LA

LFOXCMC said...

This poem is fantastic and I would love to have a scanned copy of it to pass
along to some of my friends if possible. Thanks. Lisa Fox
or Lisa Fox 17 Rolling Springs Ct. Carmel, IN 46033

VAH0428 said...

You may be tired of sending scanned copies of Jenny Joseph's Warning poem but
I would love to have a scanned copy. We are getting ready to start a new
chapter of The Red Hat Society.

Thank you,

Lesley Bommer said...

Dear Darla,

I too have read "When I am an Old Woman" and loved it.
Could I be so bold, to ask you to scan your copy....and send it to me
I would love to have a copy.
Thank you for your kindness,
to an old woman,

Clara Atkins said...

Hi, I was just reading comments on the poem, "When I am an Old Women. I don't know how long ago you posted you had a copy and would scan and send it to others. I would love to have this if you possibly have the time. I love the poem and have reached the age, to appreciate it. Thanks Clara

Marineteelblink said...

Hello, how kind of you to give us this chance to share.
I simply loved it and understand why people keep on passing it onto
others.Its funny and witty and reminded me of this one by John Arden and it's in his
play"The happy haven" which is worth reading.(By Penguin)' You may find it
cruel or sad but if you consider the lady is in an old-people home and this is
just part of a play you 'll accept this from this elderly lady:
'I'm an old lady/and I don't have long to live ./I am only strong enough to
take/Not to give.No time left to give./I want to drink, I want to eat,/I want
my shoes taken off my feet./i want to talk but not to walk/because If I walk,I
have to know/Where it is I want to go./I want to sleep but not to dream/I want
to play and win every game/To live with love but not to love/The world to
move but me not move/I want I want for ever and ever./The world to work ,the
world to be clever./Leave me be,but don't leave me alone./That's what I want .I'm
a big round stone/Sitting in the middle of a thunderstorm ./There you
are:that's true.?That's me.Now:you.
If you ever read the play you'll see what this so-called old lady
manages to do to the scientist which was using the elderly people as
guinea-pigs for experience.LOL(Sorry if you already have)


GR8M8s4ever said...


I'm a member of "The Happy Red Hatter's" in St. Louis, MO. I haven't a
"Clue" as to how long ago you offered to scan your copy of the Poem "Warning" by
Jenny Joseph, "IF" I may be so bold as to impose on your good nature, would
you be so kind as to send me a scanned copy of your copy of the Poem? My
email address is () .

Sincere Thanks & God Bless,

Lady Chatter "B"

Manish said...

what is the meaning of this poem?

wellsharbor said...

I would like to know the date that Jenny Joseph wrote the Warning When
I am An Old Woman poem. Is this information avalible?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

She wrote Warning in 1961, she was born May 7, 1932.
Poetry Archive has info.
This poem is not about fear of ageing, it is about the wish for freedoms from social norms that you abided by and the desire to be free to do all the things that as a woman you could not do as a child and get by with it...It is a wishful, fun poem meant to enjoy and derive a personal pleasure from.

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