If you were anything like me, the first time you read The Waste Land you were very confused. Here are some explanatory notes:

    Another reference to The Tempest, Phlebas -- like Alonso -- has drowned. Phlebas is a combination of the Phoenician Sailor and Mr. Eugenides.  His redemption (rising from the dead, rebirth, etc.) is still uncertain.

Eliot merges the sailor and Mr. Eugenides, the one-eyed merchant, to show that the  modern fertility god-- Phlebas-- is merely a businessman interested in "profit and loss". Primitive fertility gods were thrown in the water in the winter, hence the connection of Phlebas and fertility. If Phlebas is not resurrected, the wasteland remains barren and the King infertile. However, seeing as Phlebas has so far spent "the stages of his age and youth" in the whirlpool, his chances of resurrection are slim.

The whirlpool, and later mention of the "wheel" you turn, are probably connections to the medieval "Wheel of fortune" and the Buddhist wheel of life. To reach Nirvana, one must leave the wheel, i.e. the whirlpool which sucks you under.
props to mr. shelton, my ap english teacher for elucidating me.