Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat

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.”

Analysis, meaning and summary of T.S. Eliot's poem Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat

4 Comments

  1. jyoti says:

    It is a wonderful poem that children enjoy reading it.the character of the cat is made very obvious.one enjoys it.

  2. Fonzie Cifarelli says:

    I am in love with this poem. In the spring, my high school did CATS, and I played Skimbleshanks, it was the most interesting and fun part i have ever played in my life. i will remember it dearly!

  3. Lacey Hutchman says:

    This is my absolute favorite poem ever. I first heard it when i was watching the movie Cats when i was about 8 (now i’m 12). I immediately got hooked to cats the first time i saw it. since then, i have seen Cats preformed three times, memorized ALL the songs, gotten old possums book of practical cats, and i’ve even got a skimbleshanks snow globe!!!!!!!!! I like this poem mostly because it is so fun and uplifting!!!!! it always puts me in a good mood!!!!

  4. Janet Hilgendorf says:

    Hi all T.S. Eliot or cat fans!

    I was really pleased to find this poem on the internet as it was (and still is) my favourite poem from when I was a child of 9 or 10. We had to read it at school to the rhythm of a train which really helps to learn it by heart. Even after 36 years it’s the only poem that I remember by heart. (At least the first two or three verses) It introduced me to poetry that rhymes and is very good for teaching English pronunciation and there is a lot of vocabulary to learn. I think this poem is written in a very funny style that you can almost see and here the train an see Skimbleshanks whilst reading it. All the other things that are in it are also very visible on reading. If anyone has anything they want explaining to them about this poem then please send me an e-mail, it will be good practice for me at explaining English as I am presently training to be an English teacher. I’m the first to comment so now I hope I have given you all some encouragement to answer.
    Janet

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