Sylvia Herbert, in memoriam

Mole Valley Poets was formed at the turn of the century and has been nurtured and grown by its member poets ever since. One of the founder members was Sylvia Herbert, whose death in late April 2020 saddened us all.

Sylvia was a retired teacher of Modern Languages with an interest in the marvels and intricacies of language, and a special interest in Lorca and the Spanish poets. Her fascination with the delights of language led her to poetry and to story – she was also a key member of the Moles Storytellers. Her own poetry dealt with faith, the natural world, travels, and memory.

Sylvia was a faithful member of the group, always engaged and always encouraging. For many years she acted as treasurer and her contribution to the group was marked on her retirement from that role by her being given the honorific of Life President. She remained a regular for 20 years. She will be much missed.

Silver sea laps over quiet sand
And darkness never seems to fall,
But sleep comes gently
On a prayer of light.

From 'Evening in Iona' by Sylvia Herbert

Poems by Sylvia Herbert



You hardly notice it in daylight hours,
A blackish smudge , set in the granite wall:

Pass by for Evensong at Candlemas -
The window glows with light against the dark,
The old man sees the radiance of the Child-

The Temple Presentation is revealed
Through the beauty of stained glass.

Go closer to see Anna standing by,
And on the step the cage of votive doves;
Above them all, Jesus, on Mary's lap,
Is bright with blessing.

So Simeon has seen his heart's desire
And will depart in peace.

You hardly notice it in daylight hours,
Except inside the church
When morning sun streams through
And Christ is our light again.

Sylvia Herbert


A jasmine plant, her grandson's Easter gift,
Stands fragrantly within the silent room,
Reminding her of spring and flowers in bloom.
The gardens that she loved now seem to drift
Across her clouded memory, nor shift
Her saddened spirit from engulfing gloom;
Each moment draws her nearer to the tomb,
Glamour and pomp too far away to lift
Her royally back to this world's empty dreams.
Except the undying love between the two
Nothing she has is really as it seems.
She guided him and showed him all things true;
The living plant on which the sunlight gleams
Gives back at last to her what is her due.

Sylvia Herbert
April 2002


Harsh blue sky and hard, red earth,
Wind-echoing paramos,
Contrasts of heat and cold,
Where hawks and eagle-owls hover eerily,
Scooping the bowl of light - Medinaceli.
An elemental, high-perched place
Where cultures clashed long years ago,
Shield and swordblade resounding still in emptiness.
Above the glaring plain where shepherds trudge
Proud Romans raised their triple arch of triumph
- in Medinaceli
Spearheading Islam in the northern world,
The Moors of old set up their fortresses:
Pushing aside the vandals and the Goths,
Matching their fervour to Mohammed's will;
Creating there an Arab city of Heaven - Medinaceli.
And later still, the Spaniards held sway,
Printing in stone their Catholic victory
In Church and Creed and sober granite walls,
A firm confession of their Christian faith,
By lowly priest and peasant, and by the haughty Dukes
Of Medinaceli.

Night drops its shadows with the sinking sun,
The dome of heaven is adorned with stars,
God, Allah, Jupiter surveys man's paltry glory;
Locked in the lofty landscape his soul's dreams;
And presently the morning cocks will sing again
In Medinaceli.

Sylvia Herbert


After Luxor, the winding road,
Red desert sandstone; not a tree.
Heat; sky like dark denim,
Arrival at nowhere.

"Follow me", says the guide.
Obediently we flock behind him.
Then, majestic in the rock
The temple of the Egyptian queen
Miniature transport takes us further up
To the mouth of Rameses' tomb

We're swallowed up into the hillside
Like the Pied Piper's children,
Down into the dim chamber, strange and silent
Watched by royal shapes and hieroglyphic birds

This is their world, not mine.
I feel I am not wanted here.
They force me out into the dazzling light.
A final push and I fall against the lintel of the door,
Grazing my cheek. My head is spinning.

Shocked by the clumsiness of my intrusion
And the sudden sun, gasping for breath,
I stagger to a shaded seat and look around.
more tombs to visit.
There's Tutenkhamun's resting place.
I think of Lord Caernarvon and the Pharoah's curse.
The dead are all around

Sylvia Herbert
March 2006


Flashes of light on slate-blue water
Dart quicker than the greedy gulls above;
The low board jetty, a carelessly thrown stick,
Half-in, half-out where creamy swans assemble
Like a foam-edged wash, demanding bread
From tourists unprepared for charity.
Slowly the last ferries of the day
Move gently into harbour, gratefully
Disgorging passengers, who glide away
Hopeful for food in some green-gardened guesthouse.

Now the dark lake collects the silence of the trees
And draws into itself like a snail into its shell.
A swift skims softly the black silken sheet,
Then slips into the night like a forgotten dream.

Sylvia Herbert
June 2002


Only the boom
of the far waterfall
like doom...

Near it, can you hear it
and the chatter and the clatter
and the rat-a-tat-a
of the chill spill of the rill
on the stones now lifting,
sometimes even drifting;
splatter of the spindrift on the rock
run amok,
and the crash, splash, dash
of the cascade,

My head's chock-full of the sounds
that pound like hounds
over the bounds
of human hearing;
and the rainbow ricochets around.
Water gushing from the vortex like a spout,
in and out -
and the slip, slop, slap
of the lap of the waves in the caves,
where the spirit of the river,
the taker and the giver,
creates a sudden shiver
of reverential awe.


This grey and rainy day
holds me in limbo:
Yesterday, a death, a cruel death
cast me in gloom.
Today my mood is dark;
zombie-like, I mooch around,
All hope below the ground.
The one I counted on
is gone.
How can I go on?
Nothing will be the same.


My room is full of light,
Everything seems right.
Somewhere bells are ringing
and I hear voices singing.
"He's here!" they shout, "He's here!
There is no doubt
Come and see himfor yourself."

I feel a power surge
and I breathe the sacred air,
I do not see him,
but I know he's there.