This poem is most commonly read within The Golden Book of Poetry, a collection of classic children’s poems published in 1947. The author, to this day, is unknown. (Some have suggested that the author is Walter de la Mare or Elizabeth Prentiss.) But, the anonymous author is an element of this poem that is quite well suited (certainly purposefully) to the content.
Explore Mr. Nobody
‘Mr. Nobody’ by Anonymous is a children’s poem first published in 1947. It describes the various mischievous acts of Mr. Nobody.
In the first stanza of this poem, the speaker notes that there is a “funny little man” who is as quiet as a mouse who lives within every home. It is this Mr. Nobody who is responsible for broken plates, leaving doors open, putting damp wood on the fire, bringing mud into the house, misplacing the morning paper, and leaving the blinds open. These simple mistakes, acts of mischief, and messes are all everyday occurrences that are sources of trouble for children. The poem takes a clever approach to the idea of a child shifting the blame for breaking a plate over to “Mr. Nobody.”
You can read the full poem here.
I know a funny little man,
As quiet as a mouse,
Who does the mischief that is done
In everybody’s house!
There’s no one ever sees his face,
And yet we all agree
That every plate we break was cracked
By Mr. Nobody.
In the first lines of this poem, the reader is introduced to the poet’s character, “Mr. Nobody.” This person, the speaker says, is to blame for “every plate we break” and for all the “mischief that is done” in everybody’s house.
From the start, it’s clear that this “Mr. Nobody” is a clever play on words meant to bring to mind a child’s refusal to accept the blame or get in trouble for something they did. Imagine, for example, a child breaking a plate and, when asked who is responsible, they say “nobody.”
This Mr. Nobody, as his name suggests, has never been seen by anyone. No one knows what he looks like, but the speaker suggests that he is a “funny little man.” Considering that he intentionally creates “mischief” around everybody’s house, it makes sense to depict him in this manner.
The first stanza is also a great representation of the structure that readers can expect in the following lines. The stanza contains eight lines, which are divided, through the use of punctuation, into two sets of four. The poet utilizes a clear rhyme scheme of ABCBDEFE.
’Tis he who always tears out books,
By Mr. Nobody.
In the second stanza, the speaker describes more of the “mischief” that this Mr. Nobody is responsible for. As one might have predicted, Mr. Nobody is responsible for all the small troubles and messes that a child might make in their everyday life. For example, pulling the buttons off a shirt, tearing books off of shelves, and leaving doors open.
The second half of the stanza takes a slightly different approach to Mr. Nobody and his role within the home. The squeaking door that “will always squeak” is left to be oiled by Mr. Nobody. Once again, this creates a clever play on words suggesting that no one will fix the door’s squeak.
Stanzas Three and Four
He puts damp wood upon the fire
That kettles cannot boil;
Are not our boots,—they all belong
To Mr. Nobody.
In the third stanza, the speaker describes how Mr. Nobody is also responsible for mistakes, not only messes. For example, it’s Mr. Nobody who puts “damp wood upon the fire,” an accident that ensures that the kettle never boils. Again, it’s easy to imagine someone blaming “nobody” for a simple mistake. Mr. Nobody is also to blame for mud tracked into the house, the loss of the morning paper, fingerprints on the door, open blinds, spilled ink, and boots lying on the ground out of place.
This clever poem ends with the speaker summarizing the poem, saying that all of the misplaced items that a child might forget to put away belong to or are the responsibility of Mr. Nobody.
Throughout this poem, there are a few themes at work. The most important being taking responsibility for one’s actions. The poet taps into a general dislike within children for taking responsibility for their mistakes. This is something that can, clearly, also be seen in adults. But, the incidents that the poet focuses on are small, generally unimportant mistakes, such as breaking a plate, that a child might get in trouble for. The speaker describes “Mr. Nobody,” a fictional figure who, within the four stanzas of this poem, is described as responsible for every possible mistake, forgotten task, or mess that one might imagine.
Structure and Form
‘Mr. Nobody’ by Anonymous is a four-stanza poem divided into sets of eight lines, known as octaves. These octaves follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABCBDEFE. The even-numbered lines rhyme and the odd-numbered lines do not rhyme.
The poem is also written in ballad or hymn meter. This means that the poet uses alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. The odd-numbered lines contain a total of eight syllables. These eight syllables can be divided into four sets of two. The first syllable is unstressed within these four sets, and the second is stressed. The even-numbered lines follow the same pattern of stresses, but there are only six syllables per line, for a total of three sets of two.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Simile: a comparison between two things that uses either the word “like” or “as.” For example, “as quiet as a mouse.”
- Enjambment: can be seen when the poet cuts off the line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines three and four of the first stanza and lines seven and eight of the second stanza.
- Anaphora: the use of the same word or words at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, the pronoun “He” begins two lines of the poem, and the word “And” begins three.
- Rhetorical Question: occurs when the speaker asks a question that they already know the answer to. This can be seen in the third stanza of the poem with the lines “The papers always are mislaid; / Who had them last, but he?”
- Caesura: can be seen with the poet inserting a pause into the middle of a line of verse. This might be through punctuation or due to a natural pause in a meter. For example, “The ink we never spill; the boots.”
‘Mr. Nobody’ is a children’s poem meant to entertain young readers. The poem is written in fairly simple language, contained within short lines and short stanzas, and applies to the mischief and trouble that most children get into throughout their youth. It is highly relatable and amusing, two of the most important aspects of successful children’s poetry.
The tone is informal. The speaker is engaged in a conversation about Mr. Nobody, the source of blame that many children, and adults, turn to when they don’t want to take responsibility for their actions.
The poem depicts every day, mischievous acts, mistakes, and messes that children and adults get into. While this poem is aimed at young readers, the text can apply to anyone. It is aimed at creating a humorous depiction of the ways in which people try to shift the blame away from themselves.
In ‘Mr. Nobody,’ the speaker says that Mr. Nobody is the one responsible for fixing the squeaky door, but he’ll never do it. This line likely relates to more adult readers than it does youthful readers. It suggests that a small task will remain undone because no one wants to take responsibility for it.
The man is a fictional person, quiet as a mouse, who resides within everyone’s house. It’s him that children and adults alike blame for their mistakes, forgotten tasks, and messes.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘Dirty Face’ by Shel Silverstein – contains numerous amusing explanations, from a child speaker, as to the source of their dirty face.
- ‘The People Upstairs’ by Ogden Nash – a short nonsense poem that describes one speaker’s experience with his upstairs neighbors.
- ‘If I Were King’ by A.A. Milne – is a highly entertaining poem. It contains the fantastical thoughts of a young boy who wants to be king.