Friday, 6 November 2009

Yesterday upon the stair . . .

This is Biddy, senior Jack Russell, taken about 20 years ago.

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.

I had only ever known this verse and didn't realise there was more to the poem. It goes on:-

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 poem was called 'Antigonish' and was inspired by a haunted house in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, which boasted the ghost of a man wandering on the stairs.

It was composed by Hughes Mearns and formed part of a play called 'The Psyco-Ed' which he had written in 1899 at Harvard. It was performed in 1910 by an amateur company.

In 1939 'Antagonish' was adapted and set to music. It was recorded by the Glenn Miller Orchestra and was a popular song on the hit parade.

The verse has been adapted over the years to accommodate different events and personalities. For example, a 2008 version allegedly written by a Labour minister in the Brown government runs:-

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.

William Hughes Mearns (1875 - 1965) was a graduate of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania. He was a poet and an educator.He espoused a view unusual at the time, that children should be encouraged to express themselves in what is now known as 'creative writing'. His philosophy is encapsulated in the following quotation:

'You have something to say. Something of your very own. Try to say it. Don't be ashamed of any real thought or feeling you have. Don't undervalue it. Don't let the fear of others prevent you from saying it . . . You have something to say, something that no one else in the world has said in just your way of saying it.'

William Hughes Mearns (1875-1965) Creative Power: the Education of Youth in the Creative Arts, 1958


  1. Boy, was this a smack in the old memory bank! I hadn't thought of "Antigonish" in what seems like millennia, even though it was one of those poems I'd memorized in high school. I guess I was fond of it because my family first landed from Scotland in Nova Scotia and family lore has it that the original Macdonald who settled in Pugwash had a land grant from King James his ownself. When I visited in 1974, I had already forgotten the poem--but was agog at NS's incredible beauty: all of which comes back thanks to this post.

    I was also totally unaware that Mearns was a graduate of my alma mater (Penn), and now I have to look up his book, because it may very well prove helpful in igniting some fires under my students. I need to come back here more often!

  2. How often do we recall something from long ago and wonder how and why we ever could have forgotten it? The verse came unbidden into my mind a couple of days ago and wouldn't leave so something had to be done!
    It's marvellous that you can trace your heritage back so far. In my admittedly limited contact with Americans I have always been impressed by how much you know of your family history and what pride you take in it.

  3. The must be the weekend for remembering. Last evening I was thinking about my great aunt Veronica and all the wonderful times we had together when I was a child.

    In making my rounds today of all the blogs participating in the Thanksgiving Challenge, many people are recalling the past. BTW, I ♥ your little dog!

    I have a question. How in the world did you get on your sidebar those tiny videos of Simon's cat? I'd love to be able to do that on my cat blog. Thanks in advance for sharing...

  4. Hi Mimi - if you go to YouTube and search for 'Simon's Cat' you should find the videos. Then you can copy and paste the URLs into your settings or perhaps it's layout and there you are - Bob's your uncle! (Must discover the reasoning for that saying)


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