A man who wasn't there Perception and ambiguityYesterday, 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… (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…



  1. What is the poem about?
  2. Who could have this perspective?
  3. How are you interpreting the poem what is its context?


The poem is called Antigonish. I use this poem as an introductory activity to explore perception and ambiguity. The diversity among the answers I get back from the three questions above is sufficient to prove the different percept’s among the group.

Perception is how we experience the world around us through perception we gain information about the environment that help us to make sense of situations and draw conclusions from the information available.

Our interpretations of the information can be processed as a thought and through intuition enabling us to make sense of something and to decide what to do. That decision may be rational or irrational (based on assumptions not supported by evidence) and is almost certainly fueled by individual characteristics including personality, state and experience.

It’s the ambiguity in the poem that encourages this range of interpretations and a little context resolves ambiguity to enable us to better apply ourselves to the stimuli.

Perception and Ambiguity in Learning

Ambiguity has its place in learning and development in fact occasionally, we have a responsibility to create an environment to prepare people for life in an ambiguous world. Ambiguity is vital in problem solving programmes, central to communication skills training; it’s an essential topic on strategic planning programmes and a fundamental skill to develop during conflict management sessions.

Purposeful Ambiguity During Learning

As a designer of learning and development resources it is essential to design instruction that is unambiguous. Note the word instruction; a set of step by step instructions to support an individual in undertaking a task should be logical in structure, contextualized and unambiguous. However, removing too much ambiguity can prevent us from exploring perceptions so, we need a little context to add meaning and balance to the learning experience.

W. H. Mearns, who wrote the poem, was an educator who had a huge influence on creative writing the poem enables us to see the application of ambiguity within which the creativity operates.

How have you applied meaning to the poem?