Interpreting Antigonish

Antigonish is a poem by American poet, William Hughes Mearns.

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there!
He wasn’t there again today,
Oh how 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…

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….

A couple of years ago I became quite infatuated with this simple poem. To me the idea of fearing an entity that isn’t there was the perfect metaphor for my 99 problems, 98 of which were imagined catastrophic outcomes of situations not encountered. It was a poem about the fear of fear itself. That provided me with a sense of relief. This poet got me, he understood this sensation that was darkening my days. I felt less isolated.

Reading articles and interpretations. Somewhat disappointingly the poem was inspired by reports of a ghost of a man roaming the stairs of a haunted house, in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada. Apparently there is no metaphor. This isn’t about mental health, the stresses of modern life, it isn’t about nervous little me. But it didn’t matter. Because it gave me a glimpse of perspective, my interpretation was equally as valid as the true meaning and that is the great power of any art form.