Skimbleshanks : The Railway Cat Poem – T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)

Skimbleshanks is a character in T. S. Eliot’s 1939 book of poetry Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats and in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1981 musical Cats, which is based on Eliot’s book. The character is portrayed as a bright and energetic orange tabby cat who lives and works on the mail trains.

The role of Skimbleshanks was originated in the West End by Kenn Wells in 1981, and on Broadway by Reed Jones in 1982. He was portrayed by Geoffery Garrat and David Arneil in the 1998 film adaptation, and Steven McRae in the 2019 film adaptation.

Skimbleshanks : The Railway Cat Poem - T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)
Skimbleshanks : The Railway Cat Poem – T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)

Skimbleshanks : The Railway Cat Poem – T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)

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 cant go.

At 1.42 then the signal s nearly due

And the passengers are frantic to a man-

Then Skimble will appear and he’ll saunter to

he 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!

Hes 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 yourname 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 windowif 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 say: “Till see you again!

You’ll meet without fail on the Midnight M

The Cat of the Railway Train.”

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