Three Times Tried

The above appraisal is from a recent edition of the U.S. version of Antiques Roadshow, and features a manuscript sonnet by Oscar Wilde which has recently come to light.

While it is a newly discovered manuscript, it is not a newly discovered poem. It is one from the Wilde canon which he retitled as Ideal Love and presented with a dedication to an acquaintance named Christian Gauss, a young American journalist.

It reads:

The sin was mine; I did not understand.
So now is music prisoned in her cave,
Save where some ebbing desultory wave
Frets with its restless whirls this meagre strand.
And in the withered hollow of this land
Hath Summer dug herself so deep a grave,
That hardly can the silver willow crave
One little blossom from keen Winter’s hand.

But who is this who cometh by the shore?
(Nay, love, look up and wonder!) Who is this
Who cometh in dyed garments from the South?
It is thy new-found Lord, and he shall kiss
The yet unravished roses of thy mouth,
And I shall weep and worship, as before. [1]

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Published by

John Cooper

John Cooper is a independent scholar who has spent 30 years in the study of Oscar Wilde. He is a long-standing member of the Oscar Wilde Society, a founding member of the Oscar Wilde Society of America, and a former manager of the Victorian Society In America. For the last 20 years Cooper has specialised in Wilde’s 1882 lecture tour becoming a consultant on Wilde’s American experience to biographers and the wider media. Cooper lectures on Wilde and has conducted new and unique research into Oscar Wilde visits to New York culminating in a guided walking tour. Online he is a popular blogger and the creator of the noncommercial archive 'Oscar Wilde in America’ which incorporates his work on the Sarony photographs, and a detailed documentary verification of Wilde’s American lecture tour. In 2012 Cooper rediscovered Wilde's essay The Philosophy Of Dress that forms the centerpiece to his book Oscar Wilde On Dress (2013).

9 thoughts on “Three Times Tried”

  1. Hi, John, thank you for getting me to read this poem several times as I wended my way through your post.
    It seems to me the poem might originally have been addressed to Wilde’s wife after they split. Clearly at the end he is talking about two people making love while he looks on and weeps. He does not address himself as “love.” And why would he be weeping if he was being made love to.
    No it is assuaging his conscience for leaving his wife now that he realizes he was “mistaken” about his sexuality and he imagines a more appropriate lover for her.
    Do the dates fit?
    Thanks, anyway. Always fun to read your scholarship.
    I just read “The Last Englishman” by Roland Chambers – the story of Arthur Ransome – who prevailed, early in his career, over Bosie in court in a suit brought by the litigious Douglas involving “Reading Goal.” Are you familiar with the book? A great read.

    Peter G


    1. Thanks Peter,

      I don’t see any imagery of lovemaking, and neither do I think Constance in the piece directly. But as Michael also mentioned Constance and the narrative in general I shall address the content under his thread.

      Thanks for the heads-up about Chambers. Looks interesting. Yes another Wilde figure leading a double life! There’s small picture of Ransome on my web site here:


  2. John You’ve mistyped 1877 (for 1887) twice, which led to some confusion! I still think you’re over thinking this, but even if textual criticism is valid I don’t understand the sestet in the context you give the octet. If you’re right about that it would suggest to me that Oscar thinks Constance is going off with someone else, or that some pre-Bosie infatuation is going off with someone else before Oscar’s had a chance to do anything about it. And what about the Biblical feel of the whole thing (Fong and Beckson suggest Isaiah)? Michael

    From: Oscar Wilde In America :: Blog To: Sent: Tuesday, 1 March 2016, 23:42 Subject: [New post] Three Times Tried #yiv0851102663 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv0851102663 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv0851102663 a.yiv0851102663primaryactionlink:link, #yiv0851102663 a.yiv0851102663primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv0851102663 a.yiv0851102663primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv0851102663 a.yiv0851102663primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv0851102663 | John Cooper posted: “ above appraisal is from a recent edition of the U.S. version of Antiques Roadshow, and features a manuscript sonnet by Oscar Wilde which has recently come to light.It is not, however, a new poem; it is one ” | |


    1. Thanks for the feedback.

      Let’s look at the Biblical feel first. I started by looking at Beckson’s Isaiah reference and found it valid. There is a clear textual parallel, and then the question whether there is any parallel of meaning. The latter is more difficult, so I’ll just outline the textual similarity first.

      Read Isaiah ch. 63 v. 1-6:

      It begins:
      ‘Who is this that comes from Edom,
      from Bozrah in garments stained crimson?
      Who is this so splendidly robed,
      marching in his great might?’

      Compare Wilde:
      But who is this who cometh by the shore?
      (Nay, love, look up and wonder!) Who is this
      Who cometh in dyed garments from the South?
      It is thy new-found Lord,

      In the Bible (read with Ch. 62) the savior comes to bring vindication to the city of Jerusalem. He is stained red from trampling grapes but this is a metaphor for the crushing of people in his wrath.

      So Wilde uses this imagery in the 1887 original to signify his own salvation. His new-found Lord may not be a person, it may be the captain of his soul. But I think it represents, as I said in the blog, his reorientation.


  3. A narrow note on Guido Ferranti play. It’s too bad public opinion (which is driven by the press) was focused on the man and not the work. Perhaps Wilde was at fault here, by feeding the free press with his eccentricities (the Trump campaign) as a means of self-promotion. In doing so, one looses the control and outcome. And perhaps being forced to change the play’s name and gender didn’t work to his favor – offering today’s followers pause and cause for more reflection on such matters. As always, thanks for making me think about it.


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