Is it possible that Eliot was intending both readings? I like the idea --
it lends a certain sense of self-contradiction to it all. If we read the
line as "the streets lead you to an overwhelming question", then the
question has a sense of importance to it; but if the question is itself
reached by way of a "tedious argument", the pathos is offset with a wink.
And if read in such a way, a new gloss becomes possible: perhaps the words
"What is it?" are *themselves* the "overwhelming question"...
I'm thinking with my fingers again. Might I be onto something, or is
On Thu, 17 Apr 2003, INGELBIEN RAPHAEL wrote:
> From: <[log in to unmask]>
> > ============================
> > Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
> > The muttering retreats
> > Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
> > And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
> > Streets that follow like a tedious argument
> > Of insidious intent
> > To lead you to an overwhelming question...
> > ========================
> > Is it the "streets" or the "tedious argument of insidious intent" that
> > "lead you to an overwhelming question"?
> I'd say the streets. Read separately, 'an argument of insidious intent to
> lead you to an overwhelming question' doesn't sound very natural. I guess
> one would speak of 'an argument that leads' rather than 'an argument to
> There is a third possibility: 'to lead' specifies 'intent'. But 'intent' is
> indefinite ('of insidious intent' - no definite article). In order to be
> specified by an infinitive clause ('to lead...'), it should normally be
> definite ('the intent to lead...').
> I personally like the idea that the streets follow (in order) to lead to an
> overwhelming question. It's not just the grammar, it's also the way the
> sentence then collapses the distinction between the material ('the streets
> lead...') and the abstract ('to a question').
> > For the grammarians and poetry analysts (not mutually exclusive, of
> > on the list:
> Of course the terms are not exclusive - though most analysts are now too
> busy with other things to pay close attention to grammar. So keep those
> questions coming, please: I hadn't had so much fun since my 2nd-year grammar
> classes ;-)
> PS: where's everyone been these last few days?
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