Hughes Mearns Poem

Bear in mind that one man’s creepy is another man’s laff riot. However, I’ve always thought that this little bit from Hugh Mearns (aka William Hugh Mearns) was creepier than most any poem I have ever read:


Yesterday upon the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today
I wish that man would go away.


Just think about it. You’re coming downstairs in your house and meet someone who isn’t there. Who is he? What is he? Why is he in your house? What does he want there? Will he go away? Has he always been there? Are there more like him? Is there a way to become like him? Are you starting down that path? Half way there?

And, perhaps more importantly, will you meet him in other, more private places? And what does he think of meeting you?

So many little questions for such a little poem. As a kid, I had a book of poems with it in it. It’s haunted me for years…

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29 thoughts on “Hughes Mearns Poem

  1. I remember reading that poem quite some time ago. It originally creeped me out because I saw “the man who wasn’t there” as some aspect of the author haunting himself ala Joanna Pettet in “The House” from “Night Gallery”

  2. Oh, yes. One small note. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (9th ed.) actual lists the final line as:
    “I wish, I wish he’d stay away.”

    There seems to be some question on this from several different sources. This version, though expresses more desperation and is therefore a bit more creepy, in my opinion.

  3. Wiki gives several versions. This one, as I recall, was supposedly the first one. “I wish, I wish…” was listed, but it seemed to imply that it was made for the movie Identity. I wanted the actual and not the made-up, though, on reflection, it sounds more like the way I remember it being.

    Long winded explinations aside, I agree. “I wish, I wish…” is by far better.

  4. Although Hughes Mearns is not a direct relation of mine (although “I wish, I wish” he were), I feel certain the writer “Mom” may be correct. I had heard that he was writing about his shadow. But in my uncertain moments I can also imagine that Hughes Mearns is playing with us and simply using words to make nonsense and have a laugh! Also, not a bad thing…

  5. In all likelyhood it’s not about the paranormal, but who knows? The shadow concept is a pretty interesting notion.

  6. It’s simply fantastic. Haunting lines ever read.
    It’s a feeling of hallucination.
    it’s death,…
    Sometimes it’s your other person as Borhus imagines
    I felt it as a wonderful imagination by a set of words
    left haunting and creeping in the minds of readers! great !
    Salu.

  7. I think the “man” is someone that he does not want to be or become, such as his father who might have been a bad person. “He wasn’t there” because the author is not yet that person. The stairs could symbolize the walk of life, up and up, older and older. In one version, the first line was “As I was going up the stair”. The author may see himself becoming like someone he doesn’t want to be as he gets older.

  8. I stumbled upon this page after googling around for ‘the man who sold the world’ from David Bowie. This poem, just like the lyrics of the Bowie song are so intriguing. I like it very much.

  9. I think encounter on the stairs is with a”version” of the reader. I have often thought: “I would know myself better if there weren’t so many of me”.

    The mention of a shadow above certainly beings Jung’s Shadow Self into play.

    Or possibly it’s that space between thoughts where who knows what can slip into our consciousness??

  10. My thoughts:

    I feel as if the poem refers to yourself,
    a part that you don’t like.
    Whether you like it or not,
    though,
    it’s an undeniable part of you,
    and you have to face the man every day.

  11. I met myself the other day,
    While strolling down the Grande Allée.
    I thought I’d find myself a sot;
    Rest assured, he said, I’m not.

  12. Although I also strongly agree that this poem is quite creepy, I found the following poem, also by Mr. William Huges, to be even more so, and at the same time I found it quite intriguing.

    Two Dead Boys

    “Ladies and Gentlemen, skinny and stout,
    I’ll tell you a tale I know nothing about;
    The Admission is free, so pay at the door,
    Now pull up a chair and sit on the floor.

    One fine day in the middle of the night,
    Two dead boys got up to fight;
    Back to back they faced each other,
    Drew their swords and shot each other.

    A blind man came to watch fair play,
    A mute man came to shout “Horray!”
    A deaf policeman heard the noise and
    Came to stop those two dead boys.

    He lived on the corner in the middle of the block,
    In a two-story house on a vacant lot;
    A man with no legs came walking by,
    and kicked the lawman in his thigh.

    He crashed through a wall without making a sound,
    into a dry creek bed and suddenly drowned;
    The long black hearse came to cart him away,
    But he ran for his life and is still gone today.

    I watched from the corner of the big round table,
    The only eyewitness to facts of my fable;
    But if you doubt my lies are true,
    Just ask the blind man, he saw it too.”

  13. in my home, we have a mirror on the wall on the top of the stairs. when i walk by, sometimes i see my self, other times i don’t, cuz it’s off to the corner of the wall. and it scares me and i hated it late at night. so could that be what he means. something so simple as a reflection in a mirror? in windows?

  14. Hey, I heard about that pook you’re talking about, Cullen. The book with all the poems. I’ve been trying to find it forever. Can you (or anybody else) tell me what the book’s called? I would be SO happy if I have actually finally found it!

  15. Very interesting views from everybody. I like James Mearns’ observation. Hughes was a huge fan of the figure of speech known as the “Oxymoron.”

    Hughes’ “Two Dead Boys” posted by Marcus Polo just goes to prove that he was no schizophrenic. To quote another old poem, “A little nonsense now and then, is relished by the wisest men.” Hughes not only relished this art form, but rollicked in it.

  16. The man who wasn’t their is me, The other, dorment me, the me that wants to lash out at those who betrayed me, the ones that lied to me, used me and tore my heart out. I wish, I wish he’d go away, cause he’s gonna make them pay.

  17. i met a billy hughes
    yes after a life of being used
    we frolliced in autums mist
    we rellicked in each others twist
    fate played abigger part
    stairs we climbed right from the start
    and after climbing so long
    with a twist of fait billys gone
    but that memorie stays
    probably will all my days
    and possible all my sleppless nights
    that billy would have backed me in those nightmare fights
    a pen a name
    a life agame
    after being used
    billy left me most confusedb

  18. realmente me gustan los dos poemas me parecen originalisimos e intrigantes, no se porq pero me encantan encuentro en ellos algo que me hace reflexionar anuq no se con q?.

  19. its a poem about his other personalitie. the stairs is a metaphore for his mind he’s not there cuz two people can not inhabit the same body or mind. not invisible, not a ghost if u research you will learn he suffered from many illnesses. astma to split personalites.

  20. it is the same with the two dead boys poem he stuggled with his personalities. the deaf police man is a meaphore for “falling upon deaf ears” ( it was his phsychologist) thats how he killed those two dead boys. if you get rid of one personalitie you alter the other. there for killing both dead boys. their dead cuz as it iz said the living can never understand the dead till they to are dead. so you cant understand the insain till you to are driven mad.

  21. I take this be the moment his illusion of man dissolved. He up until that moment thought of them in a capacity that they never were. Say, inately or mostly selfless. That is meeting a man that was never there. Everyday, reinforces the new knowledge that man was never as he once thought. Now that he knows the truth of man the idea he once held is gone forever. Once you realize the sinister and unchangeable nature of humans, you’re previously held opinion cannot be restored. So the man that was never there will never go away…because the disappointment will not let you forget.

  22. I too felt the someone he didn’t want to be feeling. Possibly my getting older is at issue. My life has examples of that change with age factor. The feeling of the words “i wish i wish” make me feel it in my head. Perhaps he was too. Can anyone tell me if Mearns wrote other poems?

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