'Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat' by T.S. Eliot

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There's a whisper down the line at 11.39
When the Night Mail's ready to depart,
Saying "Skimble where is Skimble has he gone to hunt the thimble?
We must find him or the train can't start."
All the guards and all the porters and the stationmaster's daughters
They are searching high and low,
Saying "Skimble where is Skimble for unless he's very nimble
Then the Night Mail just can't go."
At 11.42 then the signal's nearly due
And the passengers are frantic to a man—
Then Skimble will appear and he'll saunter to the rear:
He's been busy in the luggage van!

He gives one flash of his glass-green eyes
And the signal goes "All Clear!"
And we're off at last for the northern part
Of the Northern Hemisphere!

You may say that by and large it is Skimble who's in charge
Of the Sleeping Car Express.
From the driver and the guards to the bagmen playing cards
He will supervise them all, more or less.
Down the corridor he paces and examines all the faces
Of the travellers in the First and the Third;
He establishes control by a regular patrol
And he'd know at once if anything occurred.
He will watch you without winking and he sees what you are thinking
And it's certain that he doesn't approve
Of hilarity and riot, so the folk are very quiet
When Skimble is about and on the move.
You can play no pranks with Skimbleshanks!
He's a Cat that cannot be ignored;
So nothing goes wrong on the Northern Mail
When Skimbleshanks is aboard.

Oh, it's very pleasant when you have found your little den
With your name written up on the door.
And the berth is very neat with a newly folded sheet
And there's not a speck of dust on the floor.
There is every sort of light-you can make it dark or bright;
There's a handle that you turn to make a breeze.
There's a funny little basin you're supposed to wash your face in
And a crank to shut the window if you sneeze.
Then the guard looks in politely and will ask you very brightly
"Do you like your morning tea weak or strong?"
But Skimble's just behind him and was ready to remind him,
For Skimble won't let anything go wrong.
And when you creep into your cosy berth
And pull up the counterpane,
You ought to reflect that it's very nice
To know that you won't be bothered by mice—
You can leave all that to the Railway Cat,
The Cat of the Railway Train!

In the watches of the night he is always fresh and bright;
Every now and then he has a cup of tea
With perhaps a drop of Scotch while he's keeping on the watch,
Only stopping here and there to catch a flea.
You were fast asleep at Crewe and so you never knew
That he was walking up and down the station;
You were sleeping all the while he was busy at Carlisle,
Where he greets the stationmaster with elation.
But you saw him at Dumfries, where he speaks to the police
If there's anything they ought to know about:
When you get to Gallowgate there you do not have to wait—
For Skimbleshanks will help you to get out!
He gives you a wave of his long brown tail
Which says: "I'll see you again!
You'll meet without fail on the Midnight Mail
The Cat of the Railway Train."

Editor 1 Interpretation

Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat - A Literary Criticism

Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat is a classic poem written by T.S. Eliot. It is one of the poems in his collection Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, which was published in 1939. This collection of poems is about cats and their unique personalities, and Skimbleshanks is no exception. The poem tells the story of a cat who works on a train as a kind of overseer and conductor. The poem is full of vivid imagery and playful language, and it is a delight to read.

Structure and Form

Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat is written in free verse, which means that it does not follow a strict rhyme or meter. However, the poem is still highly structured, with a clear beginning, middle, and end. The poem opens with a description of Skimbleshanks, his job on the train, and his personality. It then moves on to describe his daily routine, including his interactions with the other cats on the train. The poem culminates in a dramatic scene where Skimbleshanks saves the day by fixing a broken wheel on the train.

The poem is written in stanzas of three or four lines each, with a consistent rhyme scheme. The first and third lines of each stanza rhyme, while the second and fourth lines do not. This gives the poem a musical quality, even though it does not adhere to a strict meter.

Imagery and Language

One of the most striking things about Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat is its vivid imagery. Eliot paints a picture of a bustling train full of cats, each with their own unique personalities and quirks. He describes Skimbleshanks as "the cat of the railway train" and goes on to paint a picture of a cat who is always on the go, never stopping to rest.

The language in the poem is playful and fun, with a lot of internal rhyme and wordplay. For example, Eliot describes Skimbleshanks as "the cat who's like a cat among the cats," playing on the idea of a cat being a cat, but also highlighting Skimbleshanks' unique personality.

Throughout the poem, Eliot uses poetic devices like metaphor and personification to bring the cats to life. He describes them as "expressive eyes" and "elegant legs," giving them human-like qualities. This makes the poem feel almost like a fairy tale, with the cats as the main characters.

Theme and Meaning

At its core, Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat is a poem about the importance of hard work and dedication. Skimbleshanks is portrayed as a cat who takes his job on the train very seriously, always working hard to ensure that everything runs smoothly. He is respected by the other cats on the train, and he takes pride in his work.

The poem also touches on the idea of teamwork and collaboration. Skimbleshanks relies on the other cats on the train to help him do his job, and he is always there to lend a paw when they need him. When the train breaks down, it is only through the combined efforts of all the cats that it is able to keep moving.

Finally, Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat is a celebration of the joy of life. The cats on the train are portrayed as carefree and happy, enjoying their work and each other's company. Eliot captures the essence of what it means to be a cat, with all the playfulness and curiosity that entails.


Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat is a delightful poem that captures the magic of cats and the joy of life. Its vivid imagery and playful language make it a pleasure to read, while its themes of hard work, teamwork, and joy make it a timeless classic. T.S. Eliot has created a world that is both whimsical and profound, showing us the beauty in the everyday and the importance of finding joy in our work and our relationships. This is a poem that will continue to delight readers for generations to come.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat - A Classic Poem by T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot, the renowned poet, playwright, and literary critic, is known for his contribution to the modernist movement in literature. His works, including The Waste Land, Four Quartets, and Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, have been celebrated for their complex themes, vivid imagery, and innovative use of language. Among his most beloved poems is Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat, a delightful and whimsical tale of a feline who keeps the trains running smoothly. In this article, we will analyze and explain the poem in detail, exploring its themes, structure, language, and significance.

The poem, which was first published in 1939 as part of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, tells the story of Skimbleshanks, a ginger tomcat who lives and works on a train. Skimbleshanks is not just any cat, but a vital member of the train crew, responsible for ensuring that everything runs like clockwork. He is described as "the Cat of the Railway Train," and his job is to keep the carriages clean, the passengers happy, and the train on schedule. Skimbleshanks is a model employee, always punctual, efficient, and cheerful, and he takes great pride in his work.

The poem is structured in a series of stanzas, each of which describes a different aspect of Skimbleshanks' life and work. The first stanza introduces Skimbleshanks and his role on the train, while the second stanza describes his appearance and personality. The third stanza focuses on his duties, which include patrolling the train, keeping the passengers entertained, and supervising the other cats. The fourth stanza describes Skimbleshanks' relationship with the other cats, who look up to him as a leader and mentor. The fifth stanza is a tribute to Skimbleshanks' dedication and hard work, and the final stanza is a playful nod to his feline nature, as he curls up for a nap at the end of a long day.

One of the key themes of the poem is the importance of work and responsibility. Skimbleshanks is not just a cat, but a working cat, who takes his job seriously and performs it with pride and diligence. He is a role model for all those who take their work seriously, and his dedication and efficiency are an inspiration to others. The poem celebrates the value of hard work and the satisfaction that comes from a job well done.

Another theme of the poem is the power of imagination and creativity. Skimbleshanks is not just a cat, but a character in a story, a hero who saves the day and keeps the train running smoothly. His job is not just a job, but a performance, a show that entertains and delights the passengers. The poem encourages us to use our imagination and creativity to make our work more enjoyable and fulfilling, and to see our jobs as opportunities for self-expression and creativity.

The language of the poem is playful, whimsical, and full of puns and wordplay. Eliot uses a variety of poetic devices, including rhyme, rhythm, repetition, and alliteration, to create a musical and memorable poem. The use of repetition, in particular, is a key feature of the poem, as the refrain "Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat" is repeated throughout, emphasizing the importance and significance of the character. The language of the poem is also rich in imagery, with vivid descriptions of the train, the passengers, and the cats, creating a colorful and vibrant world.

The significance of Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat lies not just in its literary value, but in its cultural impact. The poem has inspired numerous adaptations, including a stage musical, Cats, which premiered in London in 1981 and went on to become one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history. The musical, which features Skimbleshanks as one of the main characters, has introduced the poem to a new generation of audiences and has helped to popularize Eliot's work around the world.

In conclusion, Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat is a classic poem that celebrates the value of work, the power of imagination, and the joy of creativity. Through its playful language, vivid imagery, and memorable character, the poem has captured the hearts and imaginations of readers and audiences for generations. As we continue to navigate the challenges of the modern world, the poem reminds us of the importance of taking pride in our work, using our imagination and creativity, and finding joy and fulfillment in the things we do.

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