John Betjeman

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What is the summary of John Betjeman's poem "The Planster's Vision"?

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In the poem "The Planster's Vision" by John Betjeman, a planner who esteems supposed practicality above beauty proposes to demolish forests, churches, and cottages to make way for more efficient worker's flats, communal canteens, and soybean fields. In a tone of sarcasm, this proposition is presented in the voice of the planner as a vision of perfection.

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To understand the poem "The Planster's Vision" by John Betjeman, it is important to realize that "planster" is a made-up word and that it is intended to be a term of derision with negative connotations, such as "trickster" or "gangster." The narrator is the planster, or planner, who is explaining why it is the right thing to do to demolish forests, churches, and cottages and to construct housing for workers and plant soybean fields in their place. To the planster, this is a practical rather than an aesthetic, traditional, or cultural decision.

The planster starts by suggesting cutting down timber (forests) because for centuries, music from the churches has been heard in the midst of the trees. There is clearly ironic sarcasm at play here, because the intention of the poet is that readers should understand the opposite and be repelled at the thought of destroying the forests and churches. The planster then suggests getting rid of the cottages where babies are born and old people die because there have been too many babies and too many old people. Again, the intention is that readers should be horrified at such presumption.

In the next verse, we see the planster's "Vision of the Future." In the planster's opinion, the beautiful forests, churches, and cottages should be replaced by utilitarian "worker's flats" that are all the same and fields that can be planted with soybeans. People would work in the fields and eat in "communal canteens," where they would be forced to listen to propaganda saying that everything is now perfect.

The poem is an indictment of practical planning at the expense of traditional values and aesthetic beauty of the sort that communist states in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union indulged in after World War II.

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