Antigonish (I Met A Man Who Wasn’t There), Hughes Mearns – an Analysis


Ooh, ghost story!

Gut Reaction
Definitely a ghost. Definitely. Where are the Ghostbusters when you need them? Or, you know, at least the Most Haunted crew?

What does it all mean?
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…

This man lives in a haunted house and when he was walking on the stairs, he felt a ghost. Ooh… I would be out the door and running up the street. But then. I am a wuss.
Or… he is walking up the stairs and he has a memory of something, maybe himself, a man he used to be? Or a man that is missing from his life physically but emotionally is haunting him, perhaps a father?

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!)

Again, this could be a literal ghost, there are all sorts of theories of 3am ghostly visits, or Witching Hour, if you will. Is this a deliberate play on words by the poet to point us in the direction of spirit activity, which apparently is a poltergeist if it is slamming doors?
Why is he coming home so late? Is he in a country that seems to be a permanent night owl and 3am is actually an ‘early night’ (I’m looking at you, Spain…), has he been out working, drinking? If working, is he haunting himself with his own actions and working on something he shouldn’t be? Or trying to drink away guilt? Loss? Pain? Either way, he is unable to – it’s an awful thing when the one thing you are running away from is yourself, isn’t it?
The last two lines of this stanza, either he is trying to get the ghost to leave, or he is raging at himself, his memories, his guilt perhaps. You know. That 3am conversation you have with yourself when you try to rationalise and justify all the things you’ve done wrong in your life.
The final ´slam´ in parentheses as a focus on how angry he is with himself, slamming his doors that are either physical or his mental ones that he is trying to shut his own ghosts behind.

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…

And….repeat. Because this isn’t going to go away… like all the good ghost stories. The second line of this stanza is different and this seems significant. The man has now been shrunk to ‘little’, is this how he views himself and his resultant ghosts? Insignificant? Small in stature or sentiment?

Form – the vaguely technical stuff
Division and order
Three stanzas where stanza three is a repeat of stanza one. Masculine rhyme with run on and end stopped lines.

A little whiny. A lot like a little boy lost.

Suggested rhyme scheme

Similes and metaphors
I feel that the entire poem is a metaphor with an imaginary ghost being portrayed and hiding behind that, some past or action that is haunting the poet with his guilt.

Author’s relationship with their subject
The subject is this ‘ghost’, and the desire to get rid of this ghost. He is not… fond of this subject.

Other points of view (ideas from other sources)
Antigonish is a small town in Nova Scotia and according to the Urban Dictionary, a place that is going nowhere. Perhaps the ghost that the writer is trying to escape is in fact a small town where everything feels like groundhog day? Or is he referring to the Antigonish Movement somehow, with this philosophy of living being his ghost?
The poem is thought to have been inspired by stories of a ghost of a man wandering around a house in Antigonish. It was written as part of a play produced by Mearns, called Psyco-Ed.

Signing off
It seems I am completely barking up the wrong tree if what I have read on the internet is correct. It happens.
I choose to interpret the poem like this: A man is being haunted by a poor choice or a mistake that he has made, and he is his own ghost. The ghost will not leave him and how can it, when it is himself?
He describes himself as a ‘little’ man in the third stanza. Perhaps because he hasn’t got the strength or will or guts to deal with whatever the issue is, and he is angry with himself but unable to change. Perhaps because he is letting the problem continue unresolved or even growing – if it is growing in size, then he is shrinking in its shadow and this refers back to the ‘little’ that he feels. Maybe he feels little also because he feels helpless and doesn’t know where to turn. Can he ask for help or is this the stereotypical projection of a man who thinks he must stay strong no matter what? What an unfair world we live in where men can´t show emotion, if that is the case.
He slams doors and gets annoyed but how can you rid yourself of yourself, when that´s the thing you are running from?



Hughes Mearns

When I read this I think of the song… The Haunting


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