Martin Robertson

Now and Then

The Shepherdess of Cahuzac
from Eugénie de Guérin’s Journal

The girl came into the church

from changing light,

birdsong and trees, to stone

and a half-light.

God’s body lay on the altar.

She pitied Him there

under the vaulted dark,

the still, stale air.

Would not God be in His world

of living day?

She laid the thing in her apron,

slipped away.


The priest comes to the altar,

finds it robbed.

Gone the silver monstrance

with the flesh of God.

Elders gather, the bells

ring out of time.

What ugly villain commits

so lost a crime?

But someone saw the girl

with her apron-full.

They follow her to the fields.

She tells them all,

leads them by track and tussock,

finally stops

where a wild rose-bush flowers

at the edge of a copse.

Monstrance and Host in the grass

wink at the sky.

They must home to the church

and the girl must die.


They set a stake in the square

for her soul’s good,

and first of the faggots they laid

the rose from the wood.

Shriven, she raised her face

to the sweet air

and a voice came out of the wind

for all to hear

“The spirit is innocent

and comes to Me.”

Then all around gave thanks

on bended knee,

blessed God for a soul rescued

from Satan’s siege.

But the girl of flesh they burned

for her sacrilege.