The Planners, Boey Kim Cheng: Analysis, Summary & Themes

Boey Kim Cheng's poem "The Planners" provides a thought-provoking exploration of the relentless nature of urban development and its impact on society. Through vivid imagery, powerful metaphors, and a nuanced use of language, the poem delves into themes of power, conformity, loss of cultural heritage, and individual resistance. It raises crucial questions about the consequences of unchecked progress, the erasure of history, and the struggle to maintain identity in the face of a homogenized and sanitized landscape. With its evocative portrayal of the planners' dominance and the powerlessness of individuals, "The Planners" invites readers to reflect on the complex relationship between development, heritage, and the human experience.

The Planners Poem Text

They plan. They build. All spaces are gridded,
filled with permutations of possibilities.
The buildings are in alignment with the roads
which meet at desired points
linked by bridges all hang
in the grace of mathematics.

They build and will not stop.
Even the sea draws back
and the skies surrender.

They erase the flaws,
the blemishes of the past, knock off
useless blocks with dental dexterity.
All gaps are plugged
with gleaming gold.
The country wears perfect rows
of shining teeth.
Anaesthesia, amnesia, hypnosis.
They have the means.
They have it all so it will not hurt,
so history is new again.
The piling will not stop.
The drilling goes right through
the fossils of last century.

But my heart would not bleed
poetry. Not a single drop
to stain the blueprint
of our past’s tomorrow.

Critical Analysis of the Planners

The analysis offers a thoughtful examination of various elements in Boey Kim Cheng's poem "The Planners."
  1. Use of Third Person Collective Pronoun "They":
    The choice of the third person collective pronoun "they" emphasizes the speaker's disavowal of the planners' project. It creates a sense of detachment and highlights the speaker's distance from the planners and their actions.
  2. Perfect:
    The term "perfect" signifies the planners' achievement of their desired outcome, but it also carries a connotation of coldness and soullessness. It suggests that while the city may appear flawless and meticulously planned, it lacks the warmth and human touch that come with organic growth and historical significance.
  3. Gridded:
    The term "gridded" not only conveys the idea of fitting into confined spaces but also implies the imposition of conformity. It suggests that the planners' approach turns vibrant and diverse spaces into rigid, box-like structures, stifling individuality and creativity.
  4. Permutations of Possibilities:
    The phrase "permutations of possibilities" carries irony by juxtaposing the open-ended nature of possibilities with their confinement into predetermined sets. It suggests that the planners' actions restrict the potential outcomes and limit the scope of imagination and innovation.
  5. Dental Braces Imagery:
    The comparison of buildings to dental braces evokes a sense of forced alignment and rigidity. It symbolizes the planners' desire to control and manipulate the environment, imposing their will upon the cityscape and shaping it according to their predetermined vision.
  6. Sea Draws Back and Skies Surrender:
    These lines employ vivid imagery to depict the planners' tyrannical drive. The reference to the sea drawing back alludes to land reclamation, where even natural elements are coerced into submission. Similarly, the phrase "skies surrender" implies the overpowering dominance of skyscrapers, which block out the sky and diminish the vastness and freedom associated with nature.
  7. Blemishes and Dental Dexterity:
    The word "blemishes" carries a negative connotation, associating the past with imperfections or flaws that need to be eradicated. The metaphor of "dental dexterity" further emphasizes the harshness of urban renewal, likening the demolishing of old buildings to the extraction of unwanted teeth. This portrayal challenges the notion of urban development as a pleasant or positive process.
  8. Gleaming Gold and Wears:
    The phrase "gleaming gold" suggests an artificial and superficial beauty, lacking warmth or authenticity. The word "wears" conveys the idea of dressing up or masking something, implying that the perfect exteriors presented by the planners may hide a lack of depth or soul.
  9. Anaesthesia, Amnesia, Hypnosis:
    The progression of these words from "anaesthesia" to "amnesia" and finally to "hypnosis" signifies an increasing level of control exerted by the planners. It suggests that the initial stages of urban renewal may numb or desensitize individuals, leading to forgetfulness and eventually a state of indoctrination. This transformation erases historical memory and distorts the true narrative of the past.
  10. Piling:
    The metaphorical depiction of a dentist piling on teeth and jaws intensifies the brutality and violence associated with the process of urban renewal. It conveys a sense of aggression, bloodshed, and anguish, underscoring the destructive and painful nature of the planners' actions.
  11. Fossils of Last Century:
    The word "piling" evokes a sense of brutality and violence, likening the construction process to an aggressive act. The imagery of "fossils of last century" reinforces the idea that the buildings of the past are treated as relics to be destroyed and discarded, erasing the tangible connections to history and heritage.
  12. Change in Pronouns (My and Our):
    The shift in pronouns from "my" to "our" highlights the speaker's transition from a personal perspective to a collective one. It signifies the significance of the planners' actions, affecting not only the speaker but also the entire community. The use of "our" underscores the powerlessness of individuals in the face of overwhelming urban development.
  13. Past's Tomorrow and Blueprint:
    The phrase "past's tomorrow" implies the potential future of the past, which the planners seek to destroy. The reference to the blueprint represents the detailed plan laid out for the eradication of history and heritage. The speaker's desire to "bleed poetry" and disrupt the blueprint reflects their longing to resist the systematic destruction of the past, even though they recognize the futility of their efforts.
  14. Means:
    The word "means" carries a pun, indicating both the ability and the financial resources possessed by the planners. They have the means to execute their plans, both in terms of capability and monetary power, further solidifying their dominance over the urban landscape.
  15. So history is new:
    The phrase "so history is new" employs irony, as history, by its nature, is rooted in the past. However, in the context of the poem, the planners' actions aim to recreate history in a new and fabricated form. The line underscores the paradoxical notion of reconstructing the past, distorting its authenticity, and presenting it as something fresh and novel.
By delving deeper into these aspects, the analysis gains more nuance and elucidates the poem's themes of powerlessness, conformity, and the erasure of history in the face of relentless urban development.

Summary of the Planners

  • About how 'the planners' built perfected and precisely calculated man-made structures. How manmade structures erase nature's flaws by being so perfect and also don't care about damages caused to nature.
  • Setting: No setting - generalized

    Split into three parts according to stanzas
  • Part 1 = Stanza 1 (Perfection of structures & retreating of nature)
  • Part 2 = Stanza 2 (Replacing nature with man-made. Continue to build/plan without mercy)
  • Part 3 = Stanza 3 (Persona's feelings towards planners- in favor of planners)

    Stanza 1: The planners methodically devise their schemes and construct, imposing a grid-like structure upon all spaces. These spaces become filled with endless permutations of possibilities, meticulously planned and executed. The buildings align precisely with the roads, converging at desired intersections, and united by graceful bridges. The planners persistently continue their work, even compelling the sea to retreat and the skies to yield to their dominion.
    Stanza 2: The planners erase any imperfections and blemishes of the past, skillfully removing any blocks deemed unnecessary. With dental precision, they fill all gaps and voids with gleaming gold, transforming the landscape into a symphony of perfected aesthetics. The country adorns itself with flawlessly aligned rows of shining teeth-like structures, leaving no room for deviations. The processes of anesthesia, amnesia, and hypnosis are employed to ensure a painless and oblivious transition. The planners possess both the means and the resources to carry out their vision, recreating history in a new form.
    Stanza 3: The relentless piling of construction materials continues unabated, relentless in its pursuit of progress. The drilling machinery penetrates through the fossils of the past century, mercilessly destroying remnants of bygone eras. However, despite this tumultuous transformation, the speaker's heart remains untouched, devoid of poetic inspiration. Not a single drop of metaphorical blood stains the blueprint of the future, where the past is erased and reimagined. The speaker's yearning to disrupt the planners' vision and inject poetic resistance goes unfulfilled, echoing their powerlessness in the face of overwhelming change.

    Themes of Boey Kim Cheng's The Planners

    "The Planners" by Boey Kim Cheng explores several prominent themes:
    1. Power and Control: The poem delves into the theme of power and control through the depiction of planners who meticulously design and construct the urban landscape. The planners exert authority over spaces, nature, and history, enforcing conformity and erasing flaws and imperfections.
    2. Conformity and Uniformity: The poem highlights the theme of conformity as the planners impose a rigid grid structure and perfect alignment upon the city. The buildings and roads adhere strictly to predetermined patterns, resulting in a landscape that lacks individuality and diversity.
    3. Loss of Cultural Heritage: Through the imagery of dental surgery and the erasure of the past, the poem explores the loss of cultural heritage. The demolition of old buildings and the construction of new, uniform structures contribute to the erasure of historical identity, leading to a sanitized and soulless environment.
    4. Resistance and Powerlessness: The speaker's yearning to "bleed poetry" and disrupt the planners' blueprint signifies a desire for resistance and individual expression. However, the poem also highlights the powerlessness of the speaker and individuals in general against the unstoppable force of urban development. The contrast between "they" and "my/our" pronouns emphasizes the collective powerlessness in the face of overwhelming progress.
    5. Transformation and Progress: The poem contemplates the notion of progress and transformation in urban development. It explores the consequences of relentless construction, the erasure of the past, and the imposition of a new, artificial version of history. It raises questions about the cost and impact of uncontrolled development on both the physical environment and cultural identity.

      Stylistic Analysis

      Boey Kim Cheng's poem "The Planners" exhibits a rich array of stylistic devices that enhance its thematic exploration. Through precise and evocative imagery, the poem captures the mechanical and calculated nature of urban development. The skillful use of metaphors, such as dental surgery and dental dexterity, creates a vivid and unsettling juxtaposition between the destruction of the past and the cold, artificial perfection of the present. The strategic repetition of pronouns, shifting from the collective "they" to the personal "my" and collective "our," reinforces the powerlessness of individuals in the face of relentless progress. Additionally, the progression of words like "anaesthesia, amnesia, hypnosis" emphasizes the incremental numbing and erasure of history. Boey Kim Cheng's masterful employment of these stylistic choices serves to heighten the impact of the poem, allowing readers to delve deeper into the themes of control, conformity, and the loss of cultural heritage in the face of unchecked development.


    6. A mixture of literal and figurative language used - mostly figurative
    7. Semantic field of perfection: 'mathematics', 'gridded', 'plan', 'alignment'
    8. Metaphor: 'The country wears perfect rows of shinning teeth'
    9. Hyperbole: 'perfect rows', 'shinning teeth'
    10. Constant Repetition: 'They'


    11. Constant enjambment throughout poem.
    12. No rhyme scheme
    13. Dramatic pause: 'not bleed poetry.'
    14. Sound devices:
    15. Alliteration: 'gleaming gold', 'permutations of possibilities', 'dental dexterity', 'Anaesthesia, amnesia'
    16. Sibilance: 'skies surrender'


    17. Awe-full: 'bridges all hang in the grace of mathematics'
    18. Power of Planners: 'They have it all', 'They have the means', 'The piling will not stop'
    19. Planners fix nature's inconsistencies: 'erase the flaws', 'history is new again', 'gaps are plugged', 'through fossils of last century'
    20. Nature is weak, 'sea draws back', 'skies surrender'
    21. Persona will not try to stop the planners: 'not a single drop to stain the blueprint' of our today

      Linking poems:

    22. The City Planners, Where I come from: all have Man vs Nature
    23. The City planners: Industry and Technology
    24. Horses, Pike: Constant awe
      Post Image Art

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