Antigonish (poem)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
An empty stairway

"Antigonish" is an 1899 poem by American educator and poet William Hughes Mearns. It is also known as "The Little Man Who Wasn't There" and was adapted as a hit song under the latter title.


Inspired by reports of a ghost of a man roaming the stairs of a haunted house, in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada,[1] the poem was originally part of a play called The Psyco-ed, which Mearns had written for an English class at Harvard University, circa 1899.[2] In 1910, Mearns staged the play with the Plays and Players, an amateur theatrical group, and on 27 March 1922, newspaper columnist FPA printed the poem in "The Conning Tower", his column in the New York World.[2][3] Mearns subsequently wrote many parodies of this poem, giving them the general title of Later Antigonishes.[4]


"Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn't there!
He wasn't there again today,
Oh how I wish he'd go away!"[5][6][7]

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...

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...


Other versions were recorded by:

Appearances in popular culture[edit]

Mearns' "Antigonish" has been used numerous times in popular culture, often with slight variations in the lines. Examples include:


...Upon the stair,
I met a man who was not there...
He was not there again today,
I wish to gosh he'd go away.




Multiple artists have used excerpts from or referenced "Antigonish" in songs. For example:

We passed upon the stair
We spoke of was and when
Although I wasn't there
He said I was his friend…

  • Furthermore, in an example of meme, pop band Visage (a legacy of David Bowie) depict in their music video clip "Mind of a Toy" – a nighttime meeting/passing upon a staircase with a little man who fades away.
  • The poem is referenced in OTEP's song "Communion" from their album The Ascension (2007)
  • The poem is referenced in Chino XL's song "Skin" from the album Poison Pen
  • The psy-trance band Xerox and Illumination used an excerpt from the poem in the song "Paranoia", from their album XI
  • Imperial Vengeance's album Black Heart of Empire (2011) featured the song "Upon the Stair", inspired by the poem[citation needed]
  • Nuit quoted the poem in their song "Nobody There" on the album Mother Night (2000)[9]
  • The Man Who Isn't There by Oren Lavie (2009, "The Opposite Side Of The Sea")


There was a man upon the stair
When I looked back, he wasn't there
He wasn't there again today
I think he's from the CIA.

  • A version appeared in The Times on 13 March 2008 that played on the contrast between UK Prime Ministers Tony Blair (1997–2007) and Gordon Brown (2007–2010). Allegedly it was composed by a minister in the Labour government.[10]

In Downing Street upon the stair
I met a man who wasn't Blair.
He wasn't Blair again today.
Oh how I wish he'd go away.

  • A version appeared in the 24 March 2015 edition of The Canberra Times, in a cartoon drawn by David Pope, wherein the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (as Ebenezer Scrooge) is reciting the lines while averting his eyes from a ghostly ex-Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, who sits on the stairs reading the report from the Moss Review into abuse in the Australian immigration detention centre on Nauru – a reference to Fraser's reputation as a moral compass and embarrassment to current sitting Liberal Party Members.

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


Other uses[edit]

  • Lines from the poem are used as the only lyrics in a 2008 computer demo called "Rush by Singular Crew".[13]
  • In a dissent in the 2008 United States Supreme Court case Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, Justice David Souter referenced the poem when he noted, "The State responds to the want of evidence with the assertion that in-person voter impersonation fraud is hard to detect. But this is like saying the 'man who wasn't there' is hard to spot".[14][15]
  • The Magnus Archives podcast centered the episode Upon the Stair around a man who confronted 'the man who wasn't there' and somehow swapped places with him, becoming a ghostly figure on a spiral staircase which kills any humans who walk up it.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Colombo, John Robert (1984). Canadian Literary Landmarks. Dundurn Press. ISBN 978-0-88882-073-0.
  2. ^ a b McCord, David Thompson Watson (1955). What Cheer: An Anthology of American and British Humorous and Witty Verse. New York: The Modern Library. p. 429.
  3. ^ a b Kahn, E. J. (30 September 1939). "Creative Mearns". The New Yorker. p. 11.
  4. ^ Colombo (2000), p.47.
  5. ^ Mearns, quoted by Hayakawa, Samuel Ichiyé & Hayakawa, Alan R. (1990). Language in Thought and Action. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 96. ISBN 9780156482400.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  6. ^ Mearns, quoted by Colombo, John Robert (2000). Ghost Stories of Canada. Dundurn. p. 46. ISBN 9781550029758.. Italics and exclamation points.
  7. ^ Mearns, quoted by Gardner, Martin (2012). Best Remembered Poems. Courier. p. 107. ISBN 9780486116402. Italics and exclamation points.
  8. ^ "Lyrics: 'Occupation Double'", (in French). Accessed: January 27, 2017.
  9. ^ Wildermuth, Elton (2007). "Nuit's 'Mother Night'". Leigh Ann's Home Machine. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
  10. ^ Parris, Matthew Parris (March 13, 2008). "Article 35". The Times.
  11. ^ Moog, Caitlin Penzey (June 25, 2017). "Fear The Walking Dead asks: What's the point of Bukowski?". AV Club.
  12. ^ Pizzolatto, Nic (2014). "HBO: True Detective- Chapter Two: 'Seeing Things'",[need quotation to verify]
  13. ^ "Rush". Pouët. 2008. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
  14. ^ Crawford v. Marion County Election Bd. FindLaw.
  15. ^ Crawford v. Marion County Election Bd. FindLaw. Retrieved January 27, 2017.