‘A Vision’ is a wonderful poem by Simon Armitage, that featured in Tyrannosaurus Rex versus the Corduroy Kid. It creates a warm, inviting tone and describes the ideals of a model of a city. But at each turn, the ideas that this espouses are refuted and subverted. Sometimes very subtly never revealing genuine problems with these ideals until the final sentence where this vision of an ideal future is finally dismissed totally. What makes ‘A Vision’ so captivating is its ability to come across as so positive and warm when in actuality it is as if the poet is so “snarky” as to make his opinions of the ideas put forward by the model builder as laughable. If you examine the poem carefully there are hints as to the nature of the poem right from the start when he describes the future as being good and then uses “once” that word sets off the poem in the fashion that it continues in raising the positives of this imagined future but then undermining them imperceptibly.
Form and Tone
‘A Vision’ is written in free verse. It is four stanzas long and each stanza consists of five lines. There is no rhyming pattern in place although there is the occasional use of assonance and alliteration (the repetition of certain sounds). ‘A Vision’ uses striking imagery to create a vision of a sort of utopian future. (based on an architect’s model.) However, this is constantly and subtly subverted by the use of certain key contradictions as you will see from my analysis.
Analysis of A Vision
The first line of the poem, which can be read in full here, is very striking as Armitage refers to the future but in the past tense. This line taken in isolation is very jarring but is explained as the poem unfolds. He then continues to explain that the vision of the future he is referring to is one that is inspired by a model of a village that would have been on display in a civic hall. What I find interesting here is that Armitage’s narrator describes the future (and by that, we assume that the building itself is almost a metaphor for the future in general) as a beautiful place but the description of the building’s blueprints contain smoked glass and tubular steel. Both of these descriptions give an impression, not of beauty, but of an industrial feel. This runs in contrast to the description of the model itself. Armitage uses alliteration in “the full-blown balsa wood” description. Balsa wood models could certainly appear beautiful and the alliteration helps lend that idea to the model. What is also prominent is the fragile nature of balsa wood in comparison to the rigidity of steel.
I love the phrase “board game suburbs” it gives the reader such a wonderful feeling of community spirit. Although I think this phrase is subversive, suggesting that the ideals represented by this model are unrealistic, childlike in some ways. There is further credence given to this theory as he uses the imagery of fairground rides and then executive toys. Executive toys being an oxymoron gives this poem yet another contradiction, further subverting its meaning. The idea of a cantilever of light whilst sounding immensely positive is once again a bit contradictory. A cantilever is a feature in architecture designed to ensure stability and a solid structure. Having one created of light would mean a city that was balanced on effectively nothing. The narrator then turns his attention to the people of this utopian future. They are wholesome doing the sort of activities that a good, cultured person might do. Walking their dog, recycling, etc.
Throughout ‘A Vision’ Armitage creates an image of a lovely future but constantly underpins this by phrases and clever poetic tricks that make it seem like the narrator is being sarcastic or perhaps to give a sense of foreboding as if to say – things aren’t going to work out like that. Fuzzy-felt grass not only uses alliteration to highlight the description, but the word itself “fuzzy”, could be used to put across the narrator’s opinion. The fuzziness represents uncertainty over the future. Once again in this stanza, the narrator talks about an idealized civilization that drives electric cars. The final sentence of this stanza states that the aforementioned vision was the “plan(s)” he then says they were all written in the neat left hand. There is some ambiguity as to what this means. Left-handedness has a negative connotation that unfairly exists in modern culture. There is a phrase “a left-handed compliment” which means something is actually an insult. Left-handedness is also wrongly associated with the devil and misdoings. Could this reference to left-handedness be relevant? It’s hard to imagine that it isn’t significant in some way.
I think this line is deliberately enjambment, running on from the previous stanza to add tension as the poem starts to draw towards its close. The use of the word “true” is interesting here. I don’t think that the narrator believes that the architects were “true”, but perhaps suggests that their ideas were? The end of this stanza is almost like a revelation and gives the poem its meaning as it is revealed that these plans were discovered by the narrator at a landfill site. There is a certain sadness that firstly these plans were clearly never carried out. If they had they wouldn’t appear on a landfill site on the day that they were due to be used. But also because of all the other “unfilled futures” the landfill site almost acts as a metaphor for what did happen in the future. There are no wealth of electric cars and masses of people recycling and working together to save the planet. Just a giant landfill site filled with the dreams of yesterday. The narrator even goes so far as to say those dreams are extinct. Is this the narrator’s way of suggesting that the people of the actual future gave up on making the dreams of the past a reality?