Favorite Childhood Poem Finally Found

Maybe it took a while for the internet to catch up with my desire. Or, maybe at some point, I stopped looking. A poem was read to me when I was a child, and it was my favorite. Silly, mysterious, it had what I wanted to hear. I thought, perhaps it was by John Ciardi. And stubbornly, I kept looking in his books and not finding it. Quite by chance, I stumbled over the answer in a newspaper article about a new novel called I Saw a Man. The title lifts a line from the poem, which I hadn't recognized until the reviewer quoted it. I always thought of the poem as "I Met A Man" (which is the title of a fun John Ciardi book of children's poems, I Met a Man ).

The poem is actually called "Antigonish," and it is by Hughes Mearns (1875-1965). Although it was composed in 1899, it wasn't published under this title until 1922. Because it is in the public domain, I (and you) can reprint it here (and elsewhere).

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…

The internet informs us that this poem has been quoted many times, used in film, books, and television, was a hit 1930s song "The Little Man That Wasn't There," and that a Christian heavy metal band made a version. There are many parodies as well. The source of inspiration, apparently: a ghost haunting a staircase in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada.

As a bonus, I was delighted to discover that Hughes Mearns was also an educator, primarily interested in creativity in children. Among other, similar books, he wrote Creative Power: The Education of Youth in the Creative Arts, which is about helping each child in a classroom find their way to being creative, and to find his or her own native (not imitated) voice, particularly through poetry, but applicable to all the creative arts. Although it was published in 1929, it is a strangely timeless book today, eighty-six years later. The writing is lively and passionate and filled with love and humor. While I don't always expect to like the creator of my favorite works, I expect I would have liked Hughes Mearns.