Poetically Speaking about Antigonish [I met a man who wasn’t there] by Hughes Mearns

This year I am doing a stripped down version of Poetically Speaking. Check back every Friday in April to chat about poems with me.

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away…


When I came home last night at three
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall
I couldn’t see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door… (slam!)


Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away…

Antigonish by Hughes Mearns is the kind of poem that I feel like everyone knows. It’s catchy, just a bit creepy, and it’s been long enough to worm its way into its fair share of popular culture.

Mearns wrote this poem in 1899 as part of a play. According to the Internet it was inspired, apparently, by reports in Antigonish, Nova Scotia of a roaming ghost. In some ways it makes perfect sense that the poem is meant to evoke a ghostly presence. The cadence and rhyme scheme are just a little eerie as is the concept of a man who isn’t there.

Interestingly, the poem feels much more whimsical and childlike when read in its entirety whereas reading the first stanza in isolation feels much more sinister and seems to refer to more than a mere ghostly presence.

Rhyming poetry can be a bit controversial. People either love it or they hate it. Rarely is there any kind of in between. I’ve always been a big fan and I think this poem is a good example of the versatility that can be found even within the restrictions of an ABAB rhyme structure.

What do you think? Is this poem as much a part of the zeitgeist as I think? Do you think it’s creepy or funny? Let’s talk in the comments.

12 thoughts on “Poetically Speaking about Antigonish [I met a man who wasn’t there] by Hughes Mearns

  1. Sometimes what something is is not as important than what it is not. But this poem is more. I saw a man. I saw a man that wasn’t there…. It’s a mobius strip

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Watching an episode of Midsomer Murders called a worm in the bud, I became aware of this poem. I did a Google Search and stumbled across your post which I very much enjoyed. The character in the episode only mentioned to the first stanza, of course. Thanks to you, I now have been able to read the entire poem. I agree with you it is a bit Whimsical and childlike after seeing the whole thing. I love poems like this! I’m so glad that I’ve been introduced to it and to you.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. As a student of Adwaita Philosophy the poem raises the question ‘Am I the person on the stair meeting the man who wasn’t there or am I the man who wasn’t there?’.


  4. The poem resonates with someone who has lost himself, someone who remembers how he was, but, remenbering, causes pain as, remembering how he was reminds him of what has been lost, the ghost of his past.

    don’t come back again
    Because, remembering causes pain.

    Just heard it in the Trials Of Christine Keeler, prior to Ward comitting suicide.
    Keep smiling!


  5. I also heard it when watching The Trial of Christine Keeler and I agree with your interpretation of it. Some people think that it’s a nonsense poem but actually it has a deep meaning. It was a perfect poem for Stephen Ward to think of before he swallowed the pills.


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