Analysis of the Poem "The Planners" by Boey Kim Cheng

Updated on January 28, 2020
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Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Boey Kim Cheng
Boey Kim Cheng | Source

Boey Kim Cheng And A Summary Analysis of The Planners

The Planners focuses on those anonymous individuals who are responsible for the development of land - the planners - who plan and build in the name of progress. It also relates the relentless race for space to the degradation of nature.

Cheng uses an organic structure for his poem, to contrast with the mathematical preciseness of the planners. A variety of literary/poetic devices - metaphor, repetition and enjambment for example - deepen and extend the reader's experience.

The main themes include:

  • Progress and Development versus Nature
  • Anonymous Bureaucracy and Effect On People's Future
  • The artist as interpreter of progress.

Boey Kim Cheng is an Australian citizen but was born and brought up in Singapore, the sovereign island-state off southern Malaysia, a dense mass of high rise apartments, offices and skyscrapers.

You might think Cheng sees Singapore as home but in his own words he feels displaced, and this sense of not having roots pervades his earlier poetry:

"Displacement has always been there in my work. The feeling of not-being-at-home. The quarrel with the self and where one is. In a sense, displacement is what makes writing possible and necessary. Moving from one place to another, adopting different positions of seeing and being. In hindsight, the move to Sydney was an inevitable step. It was like many other things I have done, a leap into the dark, a throw of the dice, but I couldn’t bear to see the way the places I loved in Singapore disappear, the thoughtlessness, the carelessness with which the country discards its past."

A Sense of Questing: Kim Cheng Boey on Poetry

BY Desmond Zhicheng-Mingdé Kon & Kim Cheng Boey (Spring 2010)

So the poem is based upon Cheng's experience of living in a relatively small space, watching building after building rise up, the inevitable result of planning.

The Planners is a free verse poem, without a set rhyme scheme or regular meter (metre in British English). The first person speaker is a sceptic, treating progress with disdain, distanced from those anonymous planners in their high offices, who will never stop.

The Planners

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.

Analysis of The Planners Stanza By Stanza

The Planners consists of three stanzas of varied length - 9 lines, 10 lines and 4 lines long - a total of 23 lines. The lines also vary in length and the whole poem looks quite organic on the page, as opposed to the mathematical grids the planners devise.

It's written in free verse, so has no rhyme scheme or consistent meter (metre in British English) which basically means the beats/rhythms differ from line to line.

First Stanza

The opening line is unusual, starting with those two short phrases:

They plan.They build.

Direct and abrupt the immediate impression is one of distance and anonymity as the single-minded planners go about their job. And the remainder of the line reinforces the idea of a relentless efficiency. Everything ends up in a grid.

Note the second line's complex alliterative syllabics:

filled with permutations of possibilities.

These planners will build anything everywhere. Everything anywhere.

The next four lines convey the basics of the planning idea which is to align buildings with roads, link them with bridges and construct all of this with mathematical precision. Everything depends on the maths. That word grace is used in a curious manner; it's as if mathematics is allowing the planners to do what they will.

By echoing the first line the seventh line is all important. They....meaning the planners, are still building and will not stop. There is something ominous in this statement.

Negativity definitely creeps in as the speaker continues in lines 8 and 9 to confirm that nature (sea and sky) is threatened by this relentless expansion. Note the personification of both.

Second Stanza

The next stanza concentrates on history and psychology. There is use of metaphor too and the imagery is quite vivid.

They, again, are at it getting rid of the past - the flaws and blemishes are what the planners see in historical buildings that have to be demolished to make way for the new - and they do this with neat skill (dental dexterity).

The metaphor extends as the gaps are plugged with gold (a precious commodity linked to finances and gold-digging and stock markets) and of course gold is used in dentistry to crown teeth.

These new buildings are set in the landscape like shining teeth. As more and more are built the people become insensitive to what is happening. It's as if they've been drugged or manipulated psychologically.

Repeated beginnings of lines emphasise the anonymity yet again. The planners are like God, they have it all, will never stop. There's a sense of helplessness at the end of this stanza as the speaker describes their actions - piling, drilling - forceful acts that destroy the history.

Third Stanza

Irony or paradox? Both? The speaker becomes first person and reveals that he has no feelings one way or the other (about this rapid development of the land) ...he only suggests that no poetry will bleed from his heart when it comes to future planning, more buildings.

Yet, here is a poem about planners.

Throughout the poem there is an air of frustration and inevitability as the speaker, at a distance, details the onslaught of the planners. In this last stanza is the speaker simply saying that all this progress will never inspire him to write any poetry.

Literary/Poetic Devices in The Planners


When two or more words close together in a line begin with the same consonant:

permutations of possibilities

skies surrender

dental dexterity

gleaming gold



When two or more words close together in a line have similar sounding vowels:

linked by bridges

build and will

knock of useless blocks with dental dexterity


When a line is paused half way roughly, by punctuation:

so history is new again. The piling will not stop.


When a line continues on in to the next without a pause, maintaining sense, as in the whole of the last stanza.


When the rows of new buildings are called shining teeth, this is a metaphorical use, exchanging one for the other which helps deepen meaning and adds fresh imagery.


Use of They plan....They build and so on reinforces the idea that the planners are anonymous, yet powerful.


© 2020 Andrew Spacey


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    • profile image


      5 months ago

      It's really a wonderful poem.In this poem it shows that we have to plan first and than do the work

    • Bushra Iqbal profile image

      Anya Ali 

      5 months ago from Rabwah, Pakistan

      Good poem and I enjoyed reading your analysis of it.


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