Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.

from T.S. Eliot – The Waste Land on Rap Genius

Meaning

The Phlebas the Phoenician episode in “Death by Water” alludes to Act 1, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Ariel’s Song to Ferdinand:

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Ding-dong.

As in Shakespeare, there is the notion that Phlebas has “suffered a sea-change” into “something rich and strange”. This is indicated by the detachment from temporal structure (passing the stages of his age and youth), sensual perception (the cry of gulls and the deep sea swell), and material objects (forgot the profit and the loss). Moreover, the allusion to Full Fathom Five brings the line “Those are pearls that were his eyes” to bear from its mention in “The Burial of the Dead” and “A Game of Chess.”

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