"The City Planners" is a poem by the Canadian poet, novelist, and environmentalist Margaret Atwood, first published in her 1964 poetry collection "The Circle Game." The poem, which takes place in a tidy, monotonous suburb, presents humanity's desire for conformity and rigid control over the environment as strange, stifling, and ultimately futile. In fact, the speaker argues that humanity's desire to stave off the essential "hysteria" of the world is itself a form of madness. The poem also targets the misuse of the earth's resources by "city planners"—here, presented as conniving people who selfishly try to force human order onto the natural world out of vanity and greed.
Cruising these residential ...
... the sanities:
the houses in ...
... our car door.
No shouting here, ...
... the discouraged grass.
But though the ...
... the hot sky,
certain things: ...
... the wide windows
give momentary access ...
... now nobody notices.
That is where ...
... own private blizzard;
guessing directions, they ...
... madness of snows.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
Atwood's Biography — Learn more about Atwood's life and work via the Poetry Foundation.
The Circle Game — Read a review of Margaret Atwood's first collection of poetry, The Circle Game, in which "The City Planners" appeared.
Atwood on Climate Change — An article discussing the role of climate change in Atwood's fiction.
The Problems of Suburbia — A brief article highlighting some of the main environmental concerns presented by suburban housing developments.
"Home Sweet Suburb" — Learn more about the rise of suburbia in Canada in the mid-20th century.
1Cruising these residential Sunday
2streets in dry August sunlight:
3what offends us is
5the houses in pedantic rows, the planted
6sanitary trees, assert
7levelness of surface like a rebuke
8to the dent in our car door.
9No shouting here, or
10shatter of glass; nothing more abrupt
11than the rational whine of a power mower
12cutting a straight swath in the discouraged grass.
13But though the driveways neatly
15by being even, the roofs all display
16the same slant of avoidance to the hot sky,
18the smell of spilled oil a faint
19sickness lingering in the garages,
20a splash of paint on brick surprising as a bruise,
21a plastic hose poised in a vicious
22coil; even the too-fixed stare of the wide windows
23give momentary access to
24the landscape behind or under
25the future cracks in the plaster
26when the houses, capsized, will slide
27obliquely into the clay seas, gradual as glaciers
28that right now nobody notices.
29That is where the City Planners
30with the insane faces of political conspirators
31are scattered over unsurveyed
32territories, concealed from each other,
33each in his own private blizzard;
34guessing directions, they sketch
35transitory lines rigid as wooden borders
36on a wall in the white vanishing air
37tracing the panic of suburb
38order in a bland madness of snows.