Love poems have always been one of the most popular forms of poetry. Though it was once claimed that Australians did not write love poems, they have been published in Australia since the earliest times. They can of course vary widely, from statements of eternal devotion to one’s beloved to laments at the loss of love, or the success of a rival.
One of the most important nineteenth-century Australian poets, Charles Harpur, spent several years courting his beloved Mary Doyle, whose family were not happy about her marrying someone who was not only the son of convicts but a penniless poet. Harpur wrote the Rosa sonnet sequence, tracing his relationship with Mary; in the final poem, ‘The Consummation’ he replaced ‘Rosa’ with Mary to signal the final success of his suit.
One of the first poems in Christopher Brennan’s collection Poems 1913 begins ‘We sat entwined an hour or two together’ and describes his love for the woman he met in Germany and his sadness that he would be soon leaving for Australia. They eventually married but the relationship did not last.
Women of course have also written famous love poems. Though her work was little known until recently, Lesbia Harford wrote love poems to both women and men, including ‘I’m like all lovers, wanting love to be’. Ada Cambridge, writing at the time of first wave feminism, rejects the marriage bond in ‘An Answer’, seeing it as not necessary to true love. Among contemporary poets, Dorothy Porter is especially known for her forceful poems of love and desire.
Some love poems take the form of love letters. Dorothy Hewett’s ‘Unanswered Love Letter’ looks back at a lost love. In a more comic vein, Judith Rodriguez in ‘In-Flight Note’ traces a young man’s rather gormless response to a girl’s rejection of him.