Memorial poems are usually written for members of the poets’ families but can also be written for friends or for famous people whom the poet has admired even if not known personally.
Memorial poems addressed to a dead mother include William Gay’s ‘To My Mother’ and Katherine Gallagher’s ‘My Mother’s Garden’, which she revisits after her mother’s death. Tom Shapcott’s ‘For Dorothy My Mother’ looks back over the life of his ninety-year-old mother, recently deceased. Many Australian poets have written memorial poems about their fathers, one of the most famous being Les Murray’s ‘The Last Hellos’ which begins ‘Don’t die, Dad – / but they die.’ Often the poet looks back over his father’s life, as in Chris Wallace-Crabbe’s ‘A Triptych for My Father’. For Rodney Hall, whose dad died when he was only six months old, it was more a matter of searching for any sign of him, as recorded in ‘Missing Person’
Many Australian memorial poems are addressed to a dead brother, as with a number by early nineteenth-century poet John Dunmore Land which relate to his brother George, such as ‘Verses’. Another nineteenth-century poet, Fidelia Hill, also remembers with grief her death brother in ‘My Brother’. Among twentieth-century poets, Vincent Buckley in ‘Multas Per Gentes . . .’ writes of travelling to his brother’s funeral; in another poem, ‘Brother’, he recalls their youth together. Katherine Gallagher has also writen in this vein in both ‘For a Brother’ and “In Memoriam for My Brother’. Memorial poems addressed to a dead sister include nineteenth-century poet Louisa Lawson’s ‘To My Sister’. Rosemary Dobson in ‘The Sister in the Photograph’ looks back to childhood days when she and her sister were photographed with a friend and her sister was caught in a characteristic pose.
During the nineteenth century memorial poems were also often written to commemorate the passing of famous people. Mary Hannay Foott, for example, wrote ‘Charles Dickens’ after his death in 1870, and ‘Wentworth’, in memory of William Charles Wentworth, who died in 1873.