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Both poems describe the building of towns, focusing on the actual physical process and the changes that this makes to the landscape. In either case, these changes are viewed in a negative light by the poet. This condemnation is more explicit in 'Beleaguered Cities' whereas in 'The Planners' it really only comes strongly to light in the concluding few lines.
In 'The Planners', the urban developers are referred to in the third person which creates a certain distancing and impersonal effect. By contrast, in 'Beleaguered Cities' the developers are directly addressed in the second person by the poet, which gives a greater sense of familiarity. It gives the sense that he is personally watching them at their work and offering his disapproving commentary. His disapproval first comes to the fore with the use of the phrase, ‘build your Babels’ – the biblical town of Babel being a byword for confusion and uproar.
The sense of disapproval is further heightened with words like 'idle' and 'dumb' to describe this urban world and its inhabitants. Urbanization, in this poem, is seen to essentially serve little purpose. In any case, the poet is quite confident that the town will one day be overwhelmed by nature, the small green blades of grass, the 'thistledown' that at present might seem to be of little account. The poem presents a vision of these natural growths eventually ‘storm(ing) the streets’ and once more resuming their sway. The poem, then, shows not just the rise of urbanization but also its decline, which is posited as being inevitable. The work of man cannot ultimately hold out against the power of nature. Human beings may encroach upon the natural environment for a time, but no city is immortal. This is the sense in which these cities are, to quote the title, ‘beleaguered'.
'The Planners', on the face of it, appears more positive towards urban development. The developers are presented as extremely being skillful and efficient, working not just with mathematical precision but also with ‘grace’. Yet the imagery used gives the sense that, essentially, this work is soulless, clinical, like the work of a dentist.
All gaps are plugged with gleaming gold.
The country wears perfect rows of shining teeth.
The city might appear bright and even dazzling but behind the appearances it seems to lack a heart.
One important difference between this poem and 'Beleaguered Cities' is that there is absolutely no hint here that the city will one day revert back to nature; quite the contrary. There is the sense here that the urban planners are ruthlessly eradicating nature and the past; even 'the seas draw back' and 'the skies surrender'. A new future is being created. But it is a future that the poet seems to want to have little part of; he cannot sense any ‘poetry’ in it. Therefore, neither poem endorses the vision of urban development - although the approach in either case is different.
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