Telling Fortunes

‘Be not among wine-bibbers; among riotous eaters of
flesh; for the drunkard and the glutton shall come to
poverty; and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.’
Proverbs, 23: 20, 21

I’ll tell you two fortunes, my fine little lad,
      For you to accept or refuse.
The one of them good, and the other one bad;
      Now hear them, and say which you choose!

I see by my gift, within reach of your hand,
      A fortune right fair to behold;
A house and a hundred good acres of land,
      With harvest fields yellow as gold.

I see a great orchard, the boughs hanging down
      With apples of russet and red;
I see droves of cattle, some white and brown,
      But all of them sleek and well-fed.

I see doves and swallows about the barn doors,
      See the fanning-mill whirling so fast,
See men that are threshing the wheat on the floors;
      And now the bright picture is past!

And I see, rising dismally up in the place
      Of the beautiful house and the land,
A man with a fire-red nose on his face,
      And a little brown jug in his hand!

Oh! if you beheld him, my lad, you would wish
      That he were less wretched to see;
For his boot-toes, they gape like the mouth of a fish,
      And his trousers are out at the knee!

In walking he staggers, now this way, now that,
      And his eyes they stand out like a bug’s,
And he wears an old coat and a battered-in hat,
      And I think that the fault is the jug’s!

For our text says the drunkard shall come to be poor,
      And drowsiness clothes men with rags;
And he doesn’t look much like a man, I am sure,
      Who has honest hard cash in his bags.

Now which will you choose? to be thrifty and snug,
      And to be right side up with your dish;
Or to go with your eyes like the eyes of a bug,
      And your shoes like the mouth of a fish!

From The Poetical Works of Alice and Phoebe Cary (Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1896) by Alice Cary. This poem is in the public domain.