The Planners Poem Summary & Line by Line Explanation in English


The poem ‘The Planners’ is about the planners of the town. Planners with the help of politicians and builders pull down the structure of an old city to build a modern one, more pleasing to the eye. The poem is free verse.

Stanza 1

 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.

The poet says that the planners only sketch, plan and build on all spaces available. He talks about urban space being part of a major grid, which simply grows in dimension, with no regard for the past. He says that their selfish plans have no uniqueness or ingenuity and are the result of certain predetermined combinations.

The poet further reveals his disgust at the alignment and perfection the planners hope to achieve by connecting all spaces with roads. He observes that the roads are linked at points that benefit the planners and are designed by them, for themselves. Cheng also talks about different urban spaces being linked by bridges that seem to be suspended.

According to the poet, the angles that these bridges flaunt, link all urbanized areas with the calculated measure. Cheng makes a very profound statement by saying that builders and planners know only how to spin money from real estate and will stop at nothing. He expresses disapproval of the fact that even nature seems to be at their mercy. The poet believes that in their aspirations to make more money they push the sea back and claim land. He also hints at tall skyscrapers that seem to make the skies surrender.

Stanza 2

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.

In the second stanza, Cheng compares the planners to dentists. With a tinge of sarcasm, he says that they seem to be on a mission to destroy heritage and the past as if those structures are flaws in their way, like rotting teeth. Continuing with sarcasm, he refers to unique ancient structures as blemishes or scars that the planners aim at knocking off.

The poet believes that the planners have the power, the equipment, and the means to get rid of older structures like useless blocks or rather teeth that a dentist would remove with precision. He says that these planners are very well equipped to ensure that opposition and comparison that form gaps in their progress are done away with.

He compares the modern building material to gleaming gold, keeping up with his sarcasm, and comments on the new-age materials used to replace heritage structures. He takes his comparison of the planners with dentists further by referring to modern structures in cities as rows of teeth that gleam and shine, devoid of any ingenuity.

Cheng lists very strong words to describe the effect he thinks the planners have on common people. He says that the common man does not oppose this rapid urbanization because he seems to be hypnotized by the show of wealth and prosperity. He talks about innocent investors being injected with anaesthesia and suffering from the loss of memory.

Cheng says that the planners have all the means to continue doing what they are currently doing and will display the same attitude for years to come. He says that they have the power to ensure that people will not be affected by what they do.

Cheng also believes that these people intend to rewrite history. He believes that their greed and ambitious nature will never cease. He also compares them to archaeologists, not those who drill to recover ancient wealth, but those that destroy the soul of the past century.

Stanza 3

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

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 the future planning of constructing 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.


The poem reflects what is going on in many places in the name of development. Nature, many species of fauna, greenery, water bodies are mindlessly destroyed for human use. These activities comprise politicians, rich and powerful people, and citizens’ voices are drowned.