The Little Man that Wasn’t There

I wonder how many people out there believed in little people as young children. I know as a child, my grandfather would always talk about the little man who was always hanging around near the clock over the kitchen sink. I totally believed in him!

The term “little people” also refers to fairies. They’re usually seen as being mischievous. Sometimes they’re considered to be good, sometimes bad. Fairies are usually hard to see, I believe because they don’t want to be seen – at least not by adults!

This all ties in with an email I received the other day from Joy Barlow, who wrote…

I really enjoy your site and have found a couple of things that bring back memories. I’m looking for “The Little Man that Wasn’t There”. It’s a poem about who spills the milk and does all those naughty things that the kids always say, “I didn’t do that.”

Joy’s description of a little man fits in very well with the description of a fairy. Yet I can’t find a poem or rhyme that talks specifically about a little man who wasn’t there.

I did find a poem about a man who wasn’t there…

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.

This one was written by Hughes Mearns.

It seems there’s got to be another little man out there who’s been written about in a poem or rhyme. If anyone is familiar with this poem, please let us know in the comments below.

Meanwhile, watch out for the little man who isn’t there. He is supposed to be mischievous after all!


UPDATE: There’s a song called “The Little Man Who Wasn’t There” from 1939. It was based on the poem above. At different times, it was sung by Glenn Miller & His Orchestra, Mildred Bailey, Bob Crosby & His Orchestra, and Jack Teagarden.

This article was posted on Wednesday, November 8th, 2006 at 4:22 pm and is filed under English, Fairies, Folk Lore, I Met a Man Who Wasn't There, Languages, Little People, Nursery Rhymes, Poems, Poetry. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

6 Responses to “The Little Man that Wasn’t There”

  1. Jackie Says:

    I found this and thought I would post it…even if time has moved on..

    Mr Nobody

    I know of a funny little man,
    As quiet as is a mouse,
    Who does the mischief that is done
    In everybody’s house!
    There’s no one ever seen his face,
    And yet we all agree
    That every plate we break was cracked
    By Mr Nobody.

    ‘Tis he who always tears our books,
    Who leaves the door ajar,
    He pulls the buttons from our shirts,
    And scatters pins afar;
    That squeaking door will always squeak,
    For, prithee, don’t you see,
    We leave the oiling to be done
    By Mr Nobody.

    The finger marks upon the door
    By none of us are made;
    We leave the blinds unclosed
    To let the curtains fade.
    The ink we never spill; the boots
    That lying round you see
    Are not our boots…they all belong
    To Mr Nobody.

  2. Lisa Says:

    Thanks! That sounds similar to Joy’s song.

  3. Chris Says:

    William Mearns’ poem “Antigonish”, which is referenced above, is also commonly referred to as “The Little Man Who Wasn’t There”.

  4. GardenNinja Says:

    This got me curious, and I googled the poem to death. The poem is very commonly mis-quoted, and also attributed to other people. It also gets titled “The Psycho-ed”, based on a variant (or perhaps this is just another misquote) that was in the 1910 play of that name:
    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.

    But William Hughes Mearns’ (aka Hughes Mearns) “Antigonish” is the oldest citation, and according to a quotes site (, the actual words are:
    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.

    That page also quotes another verse, but doesn’t say if it is part of Antigonish or a different poem entirely:
    As I was sitting in my chair
    I knew the bottom wasn’t there
    Nor legs nor back, but I just sat
    Ignoring little things like that.

  5. Lisa Says:

    Pat sent this version her mum would say:

    The Other day upon the stair;
    I met a man who wasn’t there;
    That man was there again today;
    I wish that man would go away.

    “I used to ponder this rhyme as I couldn’t understand how you could meet someone who wasn’t there.” -Pat

  6. Lisa Says:

    I found this on Wiki:

    “Antigonish” is an 1899 poem by American educator and poet Hughes Mearns. It is also known as “The Little Man Who Wasn’t There”, and was a hit song under that title.

    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…

    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…

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