The poem by Jenny Joseph, first published in 1961, is named Warning, but many people know it by its first line; "When I am old I will wear purple, with a red hat..." This poem grew a life of its own and is testament to the power of words. It speaks to a couple as they see themselves ageing, to a time when the things they 'have' to do will not be seen as important as the the things they 'want' to do. We care less about those things as we age; life becomes simpler, in some ways.
In are article in the Lancet (1999) Joseph is asked about why she thinks the poem is so popular. She recounts how her poem was added to an article about healing after illness as an illustration of hope and seeing a better way, and this spread its popularity in the UK. The poem had a different trajectory in the US; it became part of the 'inspirational quotes in cards' movement and had a more 'sociological' pathway.
In the same article Joseph talks about the amazing power of words; how little marks on a page can connect with people over time, distance and then can go on to be an action. Language, that we all use all the time, can sometimes have a huge affect on an individual. Music and sound are often recognised as having a profound effect on mood, sense of wellbeing or even physically, but something we all use everyday can also have that effect.
A copy of the article and poem is here
Words are powerful; they can create mood, they can educate us, they can inform us.