Summary of T. S. Eliot’s Death By Water

Death By Water is the fourth and the shortest section of The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot. Water is the traditional symbol of purification and regeneration, but in the modern land of desolation it has lost its functions and has become a source of destruction.


Phlebas was a Phoenician sailor who were famous in ancient times for their skill in navigation. Now he has been dead for a fortnight. Now he no longer remembers the cry of gulls which he used to hear during his voyages. Now he has also forgotten all about the rise and fall of the waves of the deep sea. His materialistic activity i.e. his pursuit of wealth has also come to an end. His bones were caught by a current of water under the sea, and were carried away with a slow, whispering sound. As his body rose and fell with the current, he passed (in the reverse order) the various stages of a man’s life from youth to old age. At last his body was caught in a whirlpool and was seen no more. Thus ended his earthly existence.

We should learn a lesson from his tragic death. Whether we are believers or non-believers, we should not seek to control our destiny and drive ourselves the boat of our life. If we do so we shall meet the tragic fate of Phlebas, who was once as tall and handsome as we are. We should have faith in God, and leave our destiny in His hands.

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