The more I write these introductions, the more you see the bedfellows to the poems, the clearer the shared themes are. The natural comparisons here are obviously “City Planners” by Boey Kim Cheng and “Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. In short, I opposed Cheng and Hopkins: Hopkins revels in the imperfections of life and sees them as beautiful; Cheng laments how we cannot tolerate the imperfections of life as Hopkins wishes we could – the flaws of our lives are eradicated by city planners who replace the natural/the historical/the past with gleaming, soulless constructions that mean nothing
Atwood (poem accessed here) sits at a midpoint between the two. Like Cheng, she despairs over the bland, soulless uniformity of architecture and urbanisation that the City Planners represent (stanza 1) – but unlike Cheng who is utterly without hope, Atwood doesn’t believe that this spells the end. In fact, Atwood’s attitude is more like Hopkins – in stanza 2, she revels in the human messiness that opposes the city planners’ uniformity and there is a real sense of purpose to her language, that our natural, human flaws and faults will come out eventually and that it is impossible to suppress these.
But if Hopkins is glorying and positive, the tone of Atwood is more sadistic, more vengeful. Stanzas 3 and 4 talk about how the city planners’ work will eventually be destroyed – in Cheng, the City Planners were all-powerful (“They have the means. / They have it all… / The piling will not stop”), but for Atwood, their work will ultimately come to nothing. The nature that Cheng saw as retreating and vanquished remains present for Atwood and will come eventually to reassert itself. I said earlier that Cheng’s poem is not “an aggressive attack” – Atwood’s, however, is. Stanzas 5-7 take a last aggressive swipe at the dolts in city planning and she uses language with power and vitriol in order to emphasise their stupidity, foolishness and idiocy in a savage attack on this idea of “progress”.
Explore how language is used in The City Planners in order to create effect on the reader.