ChapterSkimbleshanks: The Railway Cat

Skimbleshanks is a poem written in third person about a ‘railway cat’. He is the main character in this poem by TS Eliot. All you need to know and learn about this chapter is given below.

Meet the Author

  • T.S Eliot was an American-English poet and Nobel Prize winner.
  • Born: 26th September, 1988
  • Place of Birth: St. Louis, Missouri, United States
  • Died: 4th January, 1965
  • Major Works: The Waste Land (1922), “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915), The Hollow Men (1925).
  • Best Known for: Being the leader of the Modernist movement in Poetry.
Cat on a train
Cat on a train

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Summary of the Chapter

The poem is about Skimbleshanks; the cat of the Night Mail. Nothing can go wrong as long as Skimble is on board.

There’s a whisper down at 11:39
When the Night Mail’s ready to depart,
Saying “Skimble where is Skimble has he gone to hunt the thimble?”

At 11:39 am in the morning, just a few minutes before noon strikes, there is a whisper among everyone. All want to know where Skimble is. They are wondering if he has gone to hunt. Or is he playing hide and seek?

Everyone knows that they must find him, or else the train cannot depart. The guards, porters and station master’s daughters have all looked for the cat everywhere. They are asking where he is, otherwise the Night Mail just can’t depart.

All of a sudden, at 11:42, when the signal is nearly due, when the passengers are frantic, he will coolly appear and go to the rear. Perhaps, he was busy in the luggage van all this time.

When Skimble gives a flash of his glass-green eyes, the signal is clear and the train can finally set off at last for the Northern Part of the Northern Hemisphere.

One assumes that by and large, it is Skimble who is in charge of the Sleeping Car Express. He supervises everyone - right from the drivers to the guards and the bagmen playing cards. He paces down the corridors and watches everyone. Basically, Skimble is in control with his regular patrolling. Skimble always knows what's going on. Nothing gets past him.

He will watch you without winking, and he sees what you are thinking.
And it’s certain he doesn’t approve of hilarity and riot so he folk are very quiet.

Nobody can make a ruckus or riot on the train because Skimble does not approve of it. In fact, he is so alert and sharp that he watches everyone without blinking and knows what the people are thinking. Nothing goes wrong on the Northern Mail thanks to Skimbleshanks. He is not a normal cat who you can just ignore. There are no pranks which are played. Skimble is aboard for the purpose of ensuring that the train runs smoothly.

How wonderful one feels when they get into the train. Their names are written on the door and when they get to their seat, it is very neat with a nicely folded sheet. The floor is spick and span without dust. The lights can be adjusted to dark or bright. You can twist the handle to get a breeze and you have a basin to wash your face. Thus, there are all comforts aboard the train. You can shut the window if you please. In the morning, one is greeted by a bright guard who asks very politely if you would like your morning tea strong or mild.

But Skimble’s just behind him and was ready to remind him,
For Skimble won’t let anything go wrong.

Even all this is being monitored by Skimble. He stands behind the guard keeping a tab on him so that things can’t go wrong. People in the train are not bothered about mice when they are in their cozy berths. The railway cat takes care of that. In the night when all are asleep, Skimble is awake keeping a watch. He drinks his tea with maybe a little Scotch added and catches the fleas occasionally.

When the people were fast asleep at Crewe, it was Skimble who was busy pacing up and down. When all were asleep at Carlisle, it was Skimble who greeted the station master with glee.

But you saw him at Dumfries, where he speaks to the police
If there’s anything they ought to know about.
Cat Walking on Railway Track
Cat Walking on Railway Track

At Dumfries, Skimble speaks to the police in case there’s anything they need to know about. When the train gets to Gallowgate, the passengers do not have to wait because Skimbleshanks assists them in getting out. He waves his long brown tail at everyone, saying “See you again!”

It is certain that you will meet the cat of the Railway Train on the Midnight Mail.

In the end, the passengers leave. The cat bids them all goodbye, waving his tail. You are promised of another wonderful and luxurious journey on the Midnight Mail.

Skimbleshanks is a narrative poem with an ABCBDEFE rhyming pattern. There are many figures of speech used in the poem.

Skimble’s just behind him and was ready to remind him is an example of personification where a cat is given human characteristics. Generally, humans remind others. However, here the cat is reminding the guard.

The train heads North of the Northern Hemisphere is an example of Hyperbole. How much further North can the train go?

Did you enjoy the analysis of the poem? Learn how to analyze a poem through our simple blog post. If you are looking for an English tutor, please reach out to us for a free demo class.

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Above and Beyond the Text

TS Eliot’s love for cats!

T.S Eliot loved cats and had many of them. This poem is also taken from his book titled, “Old Possum’s book of Practical Cats.” According to TS Eliot, the remarkable thing about cats was that they possessed dignity and were comical as well.

Many parents bought this book for their children for several decades. T.S Eliot has drawn the illustration for the book’s cover: a dandy helping a line of cats climb over a wall. “Old Possum’s book of Practical Cats” became very popular.

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Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat Questions and Answers

Below are a few questions that you can look out for your examinations and class tests. Stand out with perfectly written answers with help of Aneetta Class.

The Railway Cat, Skimbleshanks, possesses qualities of vigilance, responsibility, and control. He supervises every aspect of the train, ensuring smooth operations and maintaining order among passengers and staff alike.

The Night Mail train is described as meticulously organized and comfortable. Passengers experience a sense of luxury with neatly appointed berths, adjustable lighting, and courteous service. Skimbleshanks oversees every detail, from the cleanliness of the floors to the prompt delivery of morning tea.

Passengers aboard the Midnight Mail feel reassured and pampered. They appreciate the attention to detail, such as personalized berths and polite service. Skimbleshanks' vigilant presence adds to their sense of security, ensuring a smooth and enjoyable journey.