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Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat – T.S. Elliot

Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat by T.S. Elliot glorifies an ordinary cat who is said to be possessing supernatural powers to safeguard the railway passengers throughout their journey. The poem is a satire that ridicules our unnecessary dependence upon the supernatural.

Stanza 1 – The Night Mail

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.”

  • There’s a whisper down the line at 11.39 – Passengers are whispering when the train is about leave the platform.
  • Night Mail – The name of a train
  • Thimble – A game using thimble, a finger-cap
  • Saying “Skimble where is Skimble has he gone to hunt the thimble? – Poet is presenting Skimbleshank’s heroic nature.
  • We must find him or the train can’t start.” – The passengers can’t think of traveling without Skimbleshanks on board.
Questions & Answers
  1. Who are whispering at 11.39? What are they whispering about?
    The passengers of the Night Mail are whispering. They are whispering among themselves about Skimbleshanks the railway cat.
  2. What is thimble?
    Thimble is a game played with finger-cap.
  3. Why can’t the train start without Skimble?
    The passengers place so much trust in Skimbleshanks who will take care of their safety during the journey that they cannot think of going without Skimbleshanks.

Stanza 2 – The Night Mail

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.”

  • Guards – Railway guards
  • Porters – Workers who carry loads at a reailway station
  • High and low – Everywhere
  • Nimble – Very quick in action; agile
  • The Night Mail – The name of a train
Questions & Answers
  1. Who all are searching for Skimbleshanks?
    The railway guards, porters and the station-master’s daughters are searching for Skimbleshanks.
  2. Why do all want Skimble to be very nimble?
    Passengers and others want Skimble to be very nimble so that the train will run without any obstacle.
  3. How does the poet glorify Skimbleshanks in this stanza?
    The poet heightens Skimbleshanks the cat’s ordinary aura to a super-cat’s status. With every guard and porter looking and calling for Skimble, we get a feeling that nothing is possible without Skimbleshanks.

Next – Stanza 3 – The Night Mail


  1. Very helpful for us to study.I thank Mr.Biju John sir providing such a wonderful line by line explanation???. I hope he will continue giving same notes.



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