Rumi’s poem “Only Breath” can be referred to as a poem of “self discovery” perpetuated by the poet’s realization that things are not as previously assumed were. There is an element of new understanding of both the persona as an individual and the world’s perception towards the persona.
The poet has presented the persona as somebody who has no sense of belonging. The juxtaposition of the persona’s place of origin, religion, existence and descend and the subsequent tautology in reference to the persona’s “place” and “trace” which according to the persona don’t exist tells of the persona’s lack of sense of belonging. The persona seems to have recently discovered that the world does not recognize him/her as belonging to it in any sphere of life and therefore occupies nowhere and his/her origin is of no interest to anybody.
The reason behind the world’s failure to recognize the persona as belonging to it could be discrimination. The persona seems to be angered by this discovery and that anger drives him/her to overreact. On realizing that he/she is being discriminated against, the persona decides to exonerate himself / herself from the world and to live an isolated life devoid of any ties of whatever element of life; not place of origin, religion, existence or descent. The persona is therefore a loner whose situation is not out of choice but as a result of discrimination, a vice that comes in so many forms in the world and which the leaders in the world have been fighting to no avail. The world’s most common forms of discrimination include apartheid, racism, nepotism, tribalism and discrimination against one’s religion. Discrimination has caused woes to many innocent people in the world who are discriminated upon for no apparent reason. This is what has made the persona to react so angrily about the whole issue.
In the last three lines, the persona seems to be saying that discrimination has made him/ her perceive both worlds, that is, the world of the living and the world of the dead as one. The persona seems to be saying that when one is exposed to discrimination, then life losses its meaning and the victim does not mind to be alive or dead. The message here is that when somebody is exposed to discrimination like has happened to the persona, life becomes useless. According to the persona therefore, life’s meaning is derived from being recognized by others, having a sense of belonging and feeling that one co-owns the world with everybody living in it. If one is denied this then there is no happiness in living in the world as it seem to be a place for “others” and the discriminated person as the “outsider” or an “intruder”
In conclusion, the poet has focused on two main issues and intertwined them together in the poem “Only Breath”. The poet focuses on discrimination and its consequences to the affected individual. According to the poet, discrimination makes the discriminated not to be able to identify with any body, any place, any origin or any religion. The second area of focus as per the poet is that, the ultimate result of the discrimination is despair and resignation. The discriminated person resigns to the fate in that, they no longer care about whether they continue living or they die. Either death or life to them becomes the same because there is no enjoyment derived from the life of the discriminated.
This is a wakeup call to all who participate in this one of the oldest vices in the world that has resisted time to abandon it and embrace love for all. The poet does so in a very subtle way, without addressing it directly but instead through bringing out the consequences of the vice to the victims which are resignation to fate and despair. Without presenting the issue in a forceful way like it normally is when a poet handles such a delicate issue, the persona has subtly passed the message to all that they consider each and all equally.