Sad poems have been written by many Australian poets across the years and are usually related to other poetic themes, particularly death poems, love poems and war poems. They can also deal with other types of loss, such as loss of youth and loss of history. Sad poems are often set at twilight or dusk, drawing on the traditional association between death and the setting of the sun, as one sees in John Shaw Neilson’s ‘The Hour of the Parting’ and ‘The Hour is Lost’, the latter dealing with a lost love. Many of Neilson’s poems have a pronounced melancholy air since they are often concerned with loss of one sort or another. Other examples among many are ‘At the End of Spring’, about the end of a time of the year especially associated with youth and hope, and ‘The Child of Tears’, about the death of an illegitimate child.
Many earlier Australian poets also wrote sad poems. Charles Harpur was one of several who addressed the subject of the massacre of Aborigines at Myall Creek in New South Wales, in his ‘The Aboriginal Mother’s Lament’. Henry Kendall’s once very well-known ‘The Last of His Tribe’ also deals with the destruction of Aboriginal culture, as does, from more recent times, Oodgeroo Noonucaal’s famous sad poem ‘We are Going’, and Judith Wright’s ‘Bora Ring’ and ‘Nigger’s Leap, New England’.
Many sad poems on the death of a person who was especially dear to a poet take the form of elegies. Robert Adamson’s sequence of poems ‘Elegies’ are written in memory of poets Robert Duncan and Robert Harris, as well as friend Arkie Whiteley. John Tranter’s ‘Elegy’ deals with the loss of another Australian poet, Martin Johnston, as does Anthony Lawrence’s ‘Elegy’, on the death of Philip Hodgins. Many of Hodgins’ own poems, written when he was dying, are also sad, as in ‘Walking Through the Crop’, where he notes the loss of meaning in things on his farm that had once meant a lot to him.