The City Planners by Margaret Atwood is a poem which explores man’s undying urge for perfection. Through the poem Atwood brings forth the perfect suburbs in her hometown Canada. The poem views modern life as empty and artificial.
The poem opens with the word “cruising” which gives the readers the impact of a easygoing or laidback feeling. This word is accompanied with “Sunday” which further adds to the laidback feeling. The author also makes a reference to her hometown in the very second line of the poem through “dry august sunlight” referring to the dry heat in Canada. “Dry” further emphasises on the setting of the poem to be in Canada.
As the poem continues the noun “sanities” surfaces which brings out the poets perception on suburbia which is a prim, proper place, which is over constructed. The repetition of the noun here is also ironic as it shows us that the planners have lost the sanity of their own minds chasing after this so called perfection.
In the 6th and 7th line of the poem Atwood uses visual imagery to bring forth the perfection of even the trees which resembles a car dent. A simile has also been used by Atwood in “like a rebuke” which further shows the uniformity of trees. The use of the word “our” in these lines makes the imagery more personal.
“No shouting here” used in the 9th line describes how the suburbs is a good place to live in. The capital used here suggests the importance of this line and perhaps a change of idea. Oxymoron is then used in the 11th line in “rational whine”, whine could bring forth a baby crying or fussing but when placed with the word rational it makes sense.
Personification is used in the very next line in “discouraged grass” signifies that the grass is upset by how often it is cut and it wants the will to grow however it pleases. Grass is also a symbol of hope but here it seems as though even the grass has lost hope.
The second stanza begins with the conjugation “But” which signifies a continuation of the first...
The Poems analysed are:The City Planners, Margaret Atwood and The Planners, Boey Kim Cheng. These are taken from the IGCSE Cambridge Poetry Anthology, but may be interesting for unseen poetry too.
How do these poets use language and structure to get across their theme?
I wrote this in about half an hour. Both poems are very similar, and have the same topic - City Planning - as shown in their titles. Structurally, they are different though, and the tone differs in places. I've marked headings for each paragraph to show, roughly, what each one is about, with major areas in CAPS (see my post on STILTS as a way to compare poems)
This paragraph analyses: similarities in SUBJECT as shown in the title; similarities and differences in TONE, point of view or attitude of the poet / narrator; how Atwood's tone shifts quite noticeably and the effects of this on the reader.
Both poems use the word Planners in their titles and both deal with cities as their topic, focussing on the structures and organization of urban spaces. Kim Cheng uses the third person ‘they’ to create a sense of distance - of us and them, whereas Atwood uses the inclusive ‘we’, to suggest that this experience of cities is one that we can all relate to and share. Her attitude - and the narratorial tone of the poem - seems negative. She uses words like ‘offends us’, ‘discouraged’, ‘avoidance’, ‘sickness lingering’, including the semantic field of illness. These seem mostly quiet, and passive, but as the poem progresses, she shifts into a more violent tone, with ‘hysteria’, ‘bruise’, ‘vicious’, ‘capsized’, and ‘insane’.
How the TONE of the second poem is different to the first:
In contrast, the language of the Planners seems to have a far more positive tone: ‘possibilities’ ‘desired’ ‘gleaming’. However, this is the planners’ view, which is not shared by the poet. He describes the planners’ vision using a rule of three, as ‘anaesthesia, amnesia, hypnosis’, which suggests control, numbness. Like Atwood’s poem, the second half of Cheng’s poem shifts into violent imagery: ‘hurt’ ‘bleed’ and ‘stain’ - to show that this ‘gleaming’ vision, when imposed by force, hurts.
STRUCTURAL Analysis THEME - IMAGERY - LANGUAGE TECHNIQUES
Atwood uses an irregular structure, which gives the effect that ideas, and flow, are forcibly cut short, as where she breaks the sentence ‘what offends us is / the sanities’. Cleanliness here seems almost antiseptic, or negative and the idea of perfect regulation in ‘sanities’ repeats in ‘sanitary’, ‘levelness’, ‘straight’, ‘pedantic rows’ and ‘rational whine’. There is an uncomfortable edge to this perfection. While the first stanza is full of the semantic field of regulation, and control, the second is rising ‘hysteria’, where even inanimate objects take on a ‘vicious’ tone. Pathetic fallacy puts ‘sickness lingering‘ in the garages, the ‘plastic hose‘ is ‘poised‘ like a snake. This neat, mundane, urban landscape is twisted into something sinister, as houses are personified with a ‘too-fixed stare‘.
Feelings, THEME, STRUCTURE, LANGUAGE TECHNIQUES and effects on the reader
Moving into the third stanza, the poem shifts into a metaphorical imagining of a future where houses capsize like glaciers and sink into the earth. There is no full-stop to give pause from ‘wide windows // give momentary access to’, as if the second stanza is just sliding into the third. The final three stanzas deal with the Planners themselves. They are portrayed as anonymous, faceless forces - ‘with the insane faces of political conspirators’, giving the feeling of secrecy, danger, but also madness. ‘Concealed’ ‘private’ and ‘blizzard’ suggest isolation, secrecy, and maybe even meaninglesness: as in ‘vanishing’, ‘transitoryness’ and ‘guessing’. They don’t know what they’re doing or why. The antithesis of ‘panic’ and ‘order’ shows that in this control, there is terror lurking.
Overall comparison: regular vs irregular STRUCTURE, and TONE (attitude towards and portrayal of planners)
Get more on how to analyse poetry here, get model essays by poet here or click here for Cambridge IGCSE only
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