Here's a reconsideration of the subject in the light of what
Tom Gray wrote (Thanks, Tom).
The death by water in Part IV of the poem, indeed, does not bring
about any redemption or regeneration -- nor is there the sort of 
transmutation hinted in "Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!" 
There is only a sense of passing into a state of oblivion:
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
And, instead of any liberation from the cycle of births and deaths,
(as a Buddha would view) there is only an "Entering the whirlpool".
(cf. "and here the Wheel" -- "I see crowds of people, walking
round in a ring.")
As such, Part IV implies -- and that seems to be its raison d'etre --
that "water" in the waste land has ceased to be regenerative -- it is
only destructive. 
Significantly, there are images of the pollution of water -- a pollution
that could be literal as well as metaphoric.  It is this pollution that 
causes the waters to be destructive.
The river sweats
Oil and tar
There's "the dull canal" against the image of a rat 
"Dragging its slimy belly on the bank".
One may, therefore, infer that the yearning for water in Part V of
TWL is a yearning for the pure, clear, life-giving waters which may
redeem the land, and its people, of their state of sterility -- both
physical and spiritual.  One can imagine a different death by water
in an altered scenario than this fearful, destructive death.  Or, at
least, that's how it would be seen by someone who is not like the
"one-eyed merchant" or like Madame Sosostris, or the wastelander
in Part II for whom  "Those are pearls that were his eyes" is no
more than a "Shakespeherian Rag".

Tom Gray <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Considering the death of Phlebas and a a possible
redemptive quality.

The poem describes him as:
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep seas swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.

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

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