THERE were three, and they sat on a mossy mound 

Where the rippling stream passed gently by, 

Each claiming to have the most beautiful hand— 

As the moments passed, the dispute rose high. 

One dipped her hand in the crystal drops, 

Then held it aloft with triumphant air; 

One gathered the strawberries till their juice 

Had colored her fingers, tapering and fair. 

The other plucked from the violet beds, 

That were standing near with their wealth of bloom, 

Until her hand seemed to be but a part 

Of the delicate flowers' sweet perfume. 

A haggard woman was passing by, 

Weary and old; and she said, "I am poor, 

Will you give for my need?" but they each refused, 

Though want was a stranger, and ample their store. 

Another, with hand undipped in the stream, 

Sat apart from the three with a quiet air; 

She had not resorted to strawberry tint, 

Nor the violet banks so free and fair. 

But she silently gave to the woman's need, 

Who asked for the cause of the warm debate; 

And they each reached forth their beautiful hands, 

Saying, "You shall decide; 't is not yet too late." 

And she said, "Not the hand from the crystal stream, 

Nor the delicate fingers dipped with red; 

Not the perfumed hand from the violet banks, 

But that which giveth to the poor instead." 

The garments so tattered and old fell off; 

Vanished the staff and the wrinkles too; 

And a white-robed angel from heaven stood, 

And looked the reproof words could not do. 

Since then the ages have ebbed and flowed, 

And the mooted question been oft rehearsed; 

But proof has ever been wanting to show 

That the verdict of heaven has been reversed.