Antigonish (poem)

Antigonish (poem)

"Antigonish" is a quatrain by American educator and poet Hughes Mearns. It is often called "The Little Man Who Wasn't There," and was a hit song under that title.


Inspired by reports of a haunted house in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada, [John Robert Colombo. "Canadian Literary Landmarks". Dundurn Press, 1984. ISBN 9780888820730.] the poem was originally part of a play called "The Psyco-ed" which Mearns had written for an English class at Harvard University about 1899.David Thompson Watson McCord. "What Cheer: An Anthology of American and British Humorous and Witty Verse." New York: The Modern Library, 1955. p. 429.] In 1910, Mearns put on 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".E. J. Kahn. [ "Creative Mearns."] "The New Yorker", 30 September 1939. p. 11.]


quote|As I was walking up the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he'd stay away.

Appearances in popular culture

Mearns' "Antigonish" has been used numerous times in popular culture, often with slight variations in the lines. Versions are frequently featured in modern entertainment, such as the opening of the 2003 movie "Identity", "Velvet Goldmine" in 1998, "Being Cyrus" in 2006, in the Stephen King novel "Dreamcatcher", the comic book "Doom Patrol" and the Star Trek novel "Q-Squared".

A version printed in "Mad" magazine around the time of the Church Committee hearings read:

quote|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 March 2008 that played on the contrast between UK Prime Ministers Tony Blair (1997-2007) and Gordon Brown (2007-). Allegedly it was composed by a minister in the Labour government. [ [ "Matthew Parris"] in "The Times", March 13, 2008.]

quote|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.


In 1939, "Antigonish" was adapted as a popular song titled "The Little Man Who Wasn't There" by Harold Adamson with music by Bernie Hanighen, both of whom received the songwriting credits. A 12 July 1939 recording of the song by Glenn Miller & His Orchestra with vocals by Tex Beneke became an 11-week hit on "Your Hit Parade" reaching #7. Other versions were recorded by Larry Clinton & His Orchestra with vocals by Ford Leary, Bob Crosby & His Orchestra with vocals by Teddy Grace, Jack Teagarden & His Orch Orchestra with vocals by Teagarden, and Mildred Bailey.

In 2008, the Swedish black/doom metal band Shining featured a sample of the poem in the opening of their album, V - Halmstad.

The poem is also sampled in the EBM song "Recognition" by The Parallel Project.

Similar lyrics can be heard in the song "The Man Who Sold the World".


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