Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat

(notes by John Radcliffe)

T. S. Eliot and Kipling

“Skimbleshanks” comes from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, by T S Eliot (Faber and Faber 1939), which was the basis for Andrew Lloyd Webber”s musical “Cats”  (1980) and Tom Hooper’s movie of the same name (2019).

T S Eliot (1888-1965) was one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century. Though at first critical, he read Kipling’s poems and stories closely, and came to admire not only Kipling’s brilliance and craftsmanship but his intuitive depth. His 1958 address to the Kipling Society on ‘The Unfading Genius of Rudyard Kipling’ appeared in KJ 129, and he became a Vice-President of the Society in March 1961. Lisa Lewis, in her article on “Kipling and T.S.Eliot” in KJ 265, traces many echoes of Kipling in Eliot’s own poetry.

In 1941 Eliot published A Choice of Kipling’s Verse (Faber and Faber).   His introduction to that collection is essential reading for any student of Kipling’s poems.

Speaking to the Kipling Society in October 1958 he asked:

What is one to say, in a few minutes, about the amazing man of
genius, every single piece of writing of whom, taken in isolation, can
look like a brilliant tour de force ; but whose work has nevertheless an
undeniable unity … He seems to me the greatest English man of letters of his generation.