The City Planners
By Margaret Atwood
Margaret Eleanor Atwood
• Birth Date: 18th
• Birth Place: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
• Occupation: Literary critic, journalist, author and poet.
• Education: Victoria College, Radcliffe College, Harvard
• Margaret wrote a novel ‘The Edible Woman’ which was one of
a number of books she wrote focusing on women’s issues.
• She has won several prizes for her different novels and
• Margaret wrote novels for a range of audiences; children,
• Margaret Atwood campaigns for human rights and the
• Margaret is known for writing about art and it’s creation, the
dangers of ideology, and sexual politics. Her writing is often
• She has lived mainly in Canada but many parts of Europe as
• Her father was an entomologist and Margaret herself was a
very out-doorsy girl as a child.
• Her favourite writer (as a child) was Edgar Allen Poe who was
famous for his dark mystery series.
• Some of her novels mock society and identity guests.
• Margaret is also a photographer and water-colourist and
some of her pictures reflect in her writing.
The City Planners
Cruising these residential Sunday
streets in dry August sunlight:
what offends us is
the houses in pedantic rows, the planted
sanitary trees, assert
levelness of the surface like a rebuke
to the dent in our car door.
No shouting here, or shatter of glass; nothing more abrupt
than the rational whine of a power mower
cutting a straight swath in the discouraged grass.
But though the driveways neatly
by being even, the roofs all display
the same slant of avoidance to the hot sky,
the smell of spilt oil a faint
sickness lingering in the garages,
a splash of paint on brick surprising as a bruise,
a plastic hose poised in vicious
coil; even the too-fixed stare of the wide windows
give momentary access to
the landscape behind or under
the future cracks in the plaster
when the houses, capsized, will slide
obliquely into the clay seas, gradual as glaciers
that right now nobody notices.
That is where the City Planners
with the insane faces of political conspirators
are scattered over unsurveyed
territories, concealed from each other,
each in his own private blizzard;
guessing directions, they sketch
transitory lines rigid as wooden borders
on a wall in the white vanishing air
tracing the panic of suburb
order in a bland madness of snows.
Poetic Devices Used
• Irony, Sarcasm; for example, ‘a splash of paint on brick
surprising as a bruise’.
• Little bit of alliteration; for example. ‘no shouting here, or
shatter…’ and ‘a splash of paint on brick surprising as a
• The poem is a Free Verse (it has no regular metre or rhyme
• Margaret has used a slightly sarcastic tone in some areas, for
example ‘stare of the wide windows give momentary
• The mood that is sensed in the poem is sarcasm, a little bit of
anger or revengeful thought (coming from nature).
Structure & Theme of Writing
• People are ignorant to natural beauty.
• Complete order and perfect sequence is not as attractive or
appealing as it may come across. It can be boring.
• The city planners are betraying nature and soon enough,
nature will knock all their work down and return to its original
• Criticism of human work.
• It’s a piece of persuasive writing based on the fact that there
are many ways of looking negatively at a modern city.
• The structure is that the stanzas are highly structured and it
has seven stanzas that grow smaller.
• I do not think the poem is famous for its structure, but more
of it’s theme and the picture it portrays. The message it
preaches is also a great concern for our current days’
concerns; for example, global warming.
• It uses a lot of imagery – you can just imagine the scene that
Margaret is describing.
• It may have seemed as a joke before as it was written a few
years ago, but now more people are much more sensitive to
the poem’s message.
Main Themes of the Poem
• Man versus Nature
• Modern city
• Urban perfection
• Global warming
• Humans and their power over nature
• Nature’s soon-coming rebellion towards man
• Ignorance of the city planners
•The first three lines basically gives us a small introduction of the
setting of the poem; ‘residential’, ‘August’. Like from where
she’s from in Canada.
•‘What offends us’; this would be the hint of disappointment
from the speaker even though it’s a beautiful time of year.
lines present the perfectness of this city and set
up; how everything is in its place and hasn’t got a single grain
out of order.
•In the 7th
line, we get a definite response of absurdness and how
its almost shameful to be so perfect and orderly.
last line of this stanza tells us that the speaker is
annoyed because the only sound you can hear is of making the
city even more perfect; mowing the lawn.
• The last line of the stanza mentions ‘discouraged grass’, this is
my first understanding of the Man Vs. Nature theme and that
in the beginning, nature has lost power to man.
• ‘sidestep hysteria’ means that they are positioned such that
there are no flaws to it – they avoid craziness. (More sarcasm)
• ‘same slant of avoidance’; there is no difference from one
house to the next – they are all the same – to the tee.
• Lines 6 to 8 shows Margaret’s view of a bit of urban life as
negativity; ‘surprising as a bruise’ this was put negatively as ‘a
bruise’ whereas it could’ve been looked at positively as art
• The last two lines represents a cobra; coiled and staring; they
have so much focus and attention to detail.
•This stanza gives a clear, official introduction to the Nature’s
Rebellion theme as Margaret mentions the ‘future cracks in the
plaster’. This means something is definitely coming and it’s going
to ruin the efforts of the city planners.
•The last three lines of this stanza indicates how all of these
modern cities will end. Everything will eventually fall over and
run out into the see in front of the humans.
•‘gradual as glaciers’ this is quite ironic because now Margaret is
showing us how it all turns around – we’ve been destroying
earth’s glaciers for such a long time so now all of our creations
will be slowly destroyed.
•This entire stanza is about how the whole thing is going to come
about as such a surprise and the people aren’t going to know
what to do. The City Planners are going to try to fix it very
quickly, but it’s too late.
•Nature should not be betrayed.
•‘private blizzard’ shows how the people are just caught up in
their own business and are ignorant to what’s going on around
•This is an addition to the fourth stanza, where the city planners
are going to rush to rebuild the cities before they completely
• ‘white vanishing air’ is represents the fact that the people will
have no time at all. Everything’s going to be gone before the
• This stanza basically tells me that no one should mess with
nature. In the end nature will always get what it wants and it
will be most likely the way it started. ‘snows’ – the ice age i.e