The Planster’s Vision

John Betjeman

‘The Planster’s Vision’ by John Betjeman satirizes the goals of men who indiscriminately demolish buildings of cultural or aesthetic significance.


John Betjeman

Nationality: English

John Betjeman was an English poet and broadcaster. He’s remembered as a well-loved figure in the English poetry scene

He served as Poet Laureate from 1972 until his death.

Key Poem Information

Central Message: The new cannot come at the expense of culture or beauty.

Themes: Beauty, Dreams, Nature

Speaker: A city planner

Emotions Evoked: Disgust, Frustration, Pride

Poetic Form: Dramatic Monologue

Time Period: 20th Century

John Betjeman's poem uses sarcasm and irony to mock the egos and justifications of men that would destroy the grandeur of long maintained structures in favor of building coldly modern ones.

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‘The Planster’s Vision’ serves as John Betheman’s sarcastic rebuke of the city planners of his day who sought to bulldoze over the past in order to pave space for the future. It probably didn’t help that these projects came in the post-war era of World War II when London was still recovering from its decimation by bombing.

The poem takes on the self-righteous voice of one of these men and uses their zealous tone to satirize their desire to destroy any and all remnants of culture or art in order to usher in a world made dull by their pragmatism.


‘The Planster’s Vision’ by John Betjeman satirizes the priorities of city-planner’s who demolition aesthetically and culturally signifigant buildings for in the name of progress.

‘The Planster’s Vision’ unfolds as a command-filled monologue by the speaker — a “planster” describing their intention for the land they have their eye on. First, they dictate that all the trees should be cut down, citing the excessive music that’s echoed through the forests from the church bells nearby.

Then they order the removal of all grouping of cottages, arguing that more than enough life and death have already passed through them. It’s not until the second stanza that the speaker explains the true reasons for such removals: which will make way for the construction of much worthier projects.

From worker’s flats to soybean fields, the speaker enthusiastically illustrates a dystopian society masquerading as a utopia. One where all the “surging millions” are fed via microphones in the “communal canteens” propaganda that asserts the need to demolish that past to pave the way for the future: “No Right! No wrong! All’s perfect, evermore.”

Historical Context

Betjeman, for a time, wrote Architectural Review, which led him to become a vocal champion for architectural conservationism across London. After World War II, the city had seen much devastation in regards to structures lost — especially churches — and the post-war period saw further destruction in the name of city planning.

In ‘The Planster’s Vision,’ the poet provides a satirical and pointedly derisive explanation of these men’s “vision of the future.” To Betjeman, that meant being ushered into a world where all the surviving structures built by past generations needed to be razed before the new could take hold. The cold indifference with which the “planster” destroy forests and villages or deride the music of the church towers reveals their belief that such things as culture or art are inferior obstacles to progress.

Literary Devices

‘The Planster’s Vision’ a number of different literary devices, including imagery and figurative language. There is visual imagery: “moon-white church-towers” (3); “Remove those cottages, a huddled throng!” (5). Auditory imagery: “Bells, too many and strong, / Pouring their music through the branches bare” (1-2); and kinesthetic imagery: “Too many coffins, bumping down the stair” (7).

Betjeman also employs simile: “Tower up like silver pencils, score on score:” (11); and hyperbole: “Surging Millions” (12). There are also examples of anaphora: “Too many” (6-7). And of irony: “No Right! No wrong! All’s perfect, evermore.” (14).

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

Cut down that timber! Bells, too many and strong,
Pouring their music through the branches bare,
From moon-white church-towers down the windy air
Too many babies have been born in there,
Too many coffins, bumping down the stair,
Carried the old their garden paths along.

In the first stanza of ‘The Planster’s Vision, the speaker issues a series of commands that satirize their contempt for culture and aesthetic beauty. Betjeman uses a variety of imagery to depict their brazen arrogance, the speaker’s tone gleeful as they justify the need for such demolition with absurd arguments. Their reason for cutting down trees is layered thick with sarcasm: “Bells, too many and strong, / Pouring their music through the branches bare. . . // . . . Have pealed the centuries out with Evensong” (1-4).

Much of the “planster’s” criticism revolves around this motif of “too many,” as it’s a repeated phrase throughout this first stanza. It’s also the reason given for the removal of a “huddled throng” (5) of cottages where “too many babies” (6) and “too many coffins” (7) have passed through. The implication is that these buildings and the people therein have served their purpose — their beauty and progeneration of life are viewed as obsolete elements of a world being swiftly torn down.

Stanza Two

I have a Vision of The Future, chum,
The worker’s flats in fields of soya beans
From microphones in communal canteens
“No Right! No wrong! All’s perfect, evermore.”

The second stanza of ‘The Planster’s Vision’ fulfills that vision by giving the reader a glimpse of it. With pompous authority, the speaker exclaims: “I have a Vision of The Future, chum” (9). That revelation reveals a world colorless of life and expression.

One in which all the forests, villages, and buildings of cultural or artistic merit have been wiped out to make room for “worker’s flats in fields of soya beans” (10) that “tower up like silver pencils” (11). Betjeman paints an image of a dystopian-utilitarian society that’s sustained by the propaganda received at “communal canteens” (13). It’s a bleak vision of a world that favors new development at the expense of that which already exists and satirizes the enthusiasm with which such men can unfeelingly demolish the old in favor of the modern.


What is the theme of ‘The Planster’s Vision?

The poem’s theme centers on Betjeman’s perception of the men making seemingly grand plans to demolish London’s older but culturally significant buildings to make way for more modern ones. The speaker’s vociferous defense of such projects echoes a bitter sarcasm with which the poet mocks their self-righteous goals. Which do nothing to forward culture or art but, in actuality, move society closer to a world made banal and utilitarian.

Why did John Betjeman write ‘The Planster’s Vision?

Betjeman wrote the poem as part of his vocal criticism of the strategies by city planners that indiscriminately demolished older buildings in favor of constructing newer ones. The poet was an ardent conservationist of architecture around London during his lifetime, especially when it came to the city’s churches and railway stations.

What is the tone of ‘The Planster’s Vision?

Part of Betjeman’s satire is giving the speaker a voice that echoes all the arrogance he accused them of. Throughout the poem, and especially in the opening line of its second stanza, the speaker has a tone characterized by its self-righteous pomposity. One that shouts at the reader and commands the world to organize itself under their sole vision.

What does “communal canteens” refer to?

In their illustration of the world in their vision, the speaker describes these “communal canteens” as places where workers gather and hear propaganda that further supports the “plansters.” The imagery is vague, but the feeling behind it is not. One gets the impression of a crowded building serving food and drinks that are just as dull as the rest of the buildings created by the “plansters.”

Similar Poems

Here are a few more poems by John Betjeman that readers might enjoy:

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Steven Ward Poetry Expert
Steven Ward is a passionate writer, having studied for a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and being a poetry editor for the 'West Wind' publication. He brings this experience to his poetry analysis on Poem Analysis.

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