Tom Gray wrote:
> Considering the death of Phlebas and a a possible
> redemptive quality.
> I don't see any redemption here. Far from redemption I
> see oblivion. Far from finding redemption for his past
> life, his past life has come to nothing.
> In answer to the general question about the
> relationship of this image of Phlebas to a general use
> of water as an image, this image is very specific.
> Death by water is a life in which every thing is lost
> and nothing is gained. It is somthing to be greatly
This makes sense. Without a clearer Caution! sign re Madame S it is hard
to take her "Fear death . . ." as anything than the poem's assumption.
Now water has _always_ (beginning with the River's pursuit of Achilles)
been "open to" construal as chaos, and the physical properties of water
(particularly its three forms: solid, liquied, gas) offer a clear basis
for that. And the lines quoted explicitly address the tradition with the
word "Whirlpool," which takes us back to Odysseus and Poseidon. (The
_only_ time in his life that Achilles felt fear was when pursued by the
River, and only the intervention of the god of fire, Hephaestus, saved
him.) And the Phoenicians were, traditionally, the earliest commercial
seafarers. One such trader makes a brief appearance in the Odyssey. And
sometimes Odysseus and/or his Return seems omnipresent in the work of
This is an always-present _potential_ in water imagery, not necessarily
present in any given reference unless the immediate as well as the
overall context activates it. In the line "hot water at ten" the
potential is _not_ activated, water here (if symbolic at all) reflecting
banal order within an otherwise chaotic world. But probably both Madame
Sosostris and Phlebas _do_ activate this potential: we encounter an
almost metaphysical chaos which grounds the social chaos figured
throughout the poem.
P.S. The closing Shantih Shantih Shantih could be glossed not as "the
peace that passeth understanding" but as "Oh well, that's the way the
cookie crumbles. TINA."