Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi

When I Die by Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi

‘When I Die’ is an incredible Rumi poem about eternal life after death. The poet proposes not to grieve his death as it’s just a means to a new beginning, not an end.

‘When I Die’ is written by Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Balkhi (1207-1273), famously known as Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi. This poem is about eternal life after death, featuring Rumi’s inspirational views on the afterlife that begins after physical death. Rumi was a Persian poet, Islamic scholar, and also a manuscript writer. He is widely known for his mystical Sufi poems. He mainly wrote in the Persian language. His works have been translated into several languages. His best-known work is Masnavi, considered one of the most influential works in the Persian language.

When I Die
Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi

When I die
when my coffin
is being taken out
you must never think
i am missing this world

don't shed any tears
don't lament or
feel sorry
i'm not falling
into a monster's abyss

when you see
my corpse is being carried
don't cry for my leaving
i'm not leaving
i'm arriving at eternal love

when you leave me
in the grave
don't say goodbye
remember a grave is
only a curtain
for the paradise behind

you'll only see me
descending into a grave
now watch me rise
how can there be an end
when the sun sets or
the moon goes down

it looks like the end
it seems like a sunset
but in reality it is a dawn
when the grave locks you up
that is when your soul is freed

have you ever seen
a seed fallen to earth
not rise with a new life
why should you doubt the rise
of a seed named human

have you ever seen
a bucket lowered into a well
coming back empty
why lament for a soul
when it can come back
like Joseph from the well

when for the last time
you close your mouth
your words and soul
will belong to the world of
no place no time
When I Die by Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi


Summary

‘When I Die’ by Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi meditates wholly upon eternity after the mortal death and the new “dawn” after the darkest night in life.

In this poem, Rumi expresses his antithetical ideas and how he wants his loved ones to react after he passes away. He has a positive attitude throughout the poem, though he talks about his death. The poem contains many symbols that explain the speaker’s thoughts on death. It is considered that death is nothing but an “arriving at eternal love.” For the speaker, death is a doorway to heaven and eternal life waiting behind the thin veil of oblivion. It helps one to be the closest with God. Besides, the poem reflects Islamic concepts and beliefs of eternal life. According to the speaker, death appears to be like a “sunset,” but actually, it is the “dawn.”

Meaning

In ‘When I Die,’ Rumi takes a religious approach to discuss the idea of death. The poem reflects his views about life and death. He agrees to the fact that one day he has to leave this world, but he also says that he will not miss this world. His positive attitude towards his death is commendable. He wants his loved ones to understand that death is not a full stop; rather, it’s a temporary comma on the way to eternal life with the everlasting love of God. The perishable body will die, but the immortal soul will live after death. And then one must not fear anything, as they will be immortal and free. The idea of life is just to act within a limited time, but as one enters the afterlife, there will be “no place no time.”

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-10

When I die

when my coffin

is being taken out

you must never think

i am missing this world

don’t shed any tears

don’t lament or

feel sorry

i’m not falling

into a monster’s abyss

‘When I Die,’ written by the famous Persian poet, Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi, is about the poet’s belief in the afterlife theory. He says that when he dies and when his coffin is taken out, his followers/loved ones must not think that he misses his earthly life. He makes it clear to readers that he is not frightened by the idea of death; instead, he is fully prepared for it. The positive attitude of the poet can be felt throughout the poem, as he spreads his hands wide to embrace death. Hence, it is clear that he is not going to miss this world after his death.

Rumi possesses a strong-willed mind and a deeply dedicated soul to eternal love. This can be assumed by the way he tells his readers not to cry or feel sorry. He says that he is not going to suffer any pain after death. So no one has to cry or lament when he is no more. The last line indicates that he is a firm believer in God, and thus he knows the fact that death is just an end to his physical pains and sufferings. His soul can never descend into the “monster’s abyss,” a metaphorical reference to hell.

Lines 11-21

when you see 

my corpse is being carried

don’t cry for my leaving

i’m not leaving

i’m arriving at eternal love

when you leave me

in the grave

don’t say goodbye

remember a grave is

only a curtain

for the paradise behind

The concrete faith of the speaker and the fearless approach towards death originate from his spiritual integrity. He is deeply connected with God, and death brings him the closest to Him. For this reason, he repeats, “don’t cry for my leaving”, and continues to say that he is not leaving but entering into the place of eternal love. His devotion is mirrored in his words. Besides, he does not fear the grave because he longs to experience the eternal love of God.

In the next lines, Rumi goes on to say that when people leave his corpse in the grave, they must not say goodbye, as the grave is only a “curtain.” He uses the symbols of “grave” and “curtain” to indicate his thoughts related to death; the curtain shows the next door, which opens up to paradise. Whoever crosses the first door (life) can have the chance to pass through the next one (death) that leads straight to heaven. The use of symbolism shows Rumi’s intellectual ability to portray death in a positive light.

Lines 22-32

you’ll only see me 

descending into a grave

now watch me rise

how can there be an end

when the sun sets or

the moon goes down

it looks like the end

it seems like a sunset

but in reality, is a dawn

when the grave locks you up

that is when your  soul is freed

In ‘When I Die,’ Rumi anticipates each step of his funeral ceremony. After leaving him in his grave, his loved ones can only see him descending. In contrast, he tells them to watch him rise. He descended just for a fraction of seconds; he will rise again with new vigor and with the holy attire of spiritual purity. Furthermore, Rumi metaphorically says that one cannot say death is an end. When the sun sets, there’s always dusk, and when the moon goes down, there is dawn. As the moon goes down, the sun takes its place; just like that, there is no ending to the soul. When the body dies, the soul rises to heaven.

The poet’s extensive use of symbolism is seen throughout the poem. He symbolizes death as the setting sun. Death may appear to be an end of life and seem like an ultimate end, but it is just the beginning, like the dawn spreading a new light in the early morning sky, composing a prelude to the sunrise. The speaker continues to say that when the body is locked up in the grave, the soul becomes free. This statement is paradoxical. It means that the moment humans die, their souls become free to step outside of their bodies and fly to heaven.

Lines 33-43

have you ever seen

a seed fallen to earth

not rise with a new life

why should you doubt the rise

of a seed named human

have you ever seen

a bucket lowered into a well

coming back empty

why lament for a soul

when it can come back

like Joseph from the well

In these lines, the speaker talks about a seed falling to earth and growing back as a new plant. He metaphorically compares a seed to human life. Just as a seed, the body falls to the ground of death, and the soul rises into a new life as a shoot. The soul never dies. As the body dies, the soul is freed. In this way, the belief in rebirth and regeneration is expressed through the poem.

Rumi establishes contact with readers by directly asking some rhetorical questions. He also provides the answers implicitly. In the next stanza, he asks whether any bucket came back empty after lowering it to a well. The “well” symbolizes death, and the “bucket” is a metaphor for life. In the last line, he alludes to a character of the Quran, Prophet Joseph, who was thrown into a well by his brothers because of envy. Later, Joseph was sold to some travelers of Egypt, and eventually, he rose to become the King of Israel. As the Prophet, by the grace of God, rose to power after descending into the well, the speaker will also rise to heaven after his death.

Lines 44-48

when for the last time

you close your mouth

your words and soul

will belong to the world of

no place no time

Rumi concludes the poem ‘When I Die’ by saying that when his life ends, his words will become immortal. His soul will belong to no specific place. It will be part of the divine scheme. The concept of eternity has no limitations, nor can any place bind its expanse. When the body is separated from the soul, the soul becomes eternal. Then there is no more fear of dying. In this way, the poet reassures readers not to be frightened of death, as it’s just another beginning, not the ultimate end.

Structure

The poem ‘When I Die’ consists of nine stanzas, out of which three stanzas are sestets, and the rest of the stanzas are quintets. It is written in both first-person point of view “I” and addressed to a second-person “you” in several places. There are short lines with no punctuations in between. The speaker is the poet himself, and he establishes a direct connection with readers with the frequent use of rhetorical questions. From the beginning till the end, his tone in the poem is positive and calm. Besides, the poem is written in the free-verse form. Thus, it follows no rhyming pattern. As the poet talks about death, he finds it unnecessary to rhyme the words. The poem does not have any metrical pattern either.

Literary Devices

In ‘When I Die,’ Rumi uses a number of literary devices that include:

  • Anaphora: Rumi uses the same words at the beginning of consecutive lines as seen in the first two lines of stanza one: “When I die/ when my coffin”, and in the first two lines of stanza two: “don’t shed any tears/ don’t lament or”.
  • Repetition: The poet repeats the same words or phrases to highlight his ideas. This can be seen in the lines: “it looks like the end/ it seems like a sunset.” It also occurs in the starting lines of the seventh and eighth stanzas: “have you ever seen”.
  • Enjambment: It occurs throughout the poem as there are no punctuations between the lines. The lines that begin with small letters indicate continuity; for instance, “When I die/ when my coffin/ is being taken out/ you must never think/ i am missing this world”.
  • Simile: The speaker compares death to various ideas. He uses “like” to compare it to an “end” and “sunset” in the following lines: “it looks like the end/ it seems like a sunset”.
  • Rhetorical Question: The poem contains a number of rhetorical questions, such as “how can there be an end/ when the sun sets or”, “why should you doubt the rise/ of a seed named human”, etc.
  • Juxtaposition: The poet uses contrasting ideas to feature his outlook on death, as evident in the lines, “i’m not leaving/ i’m arriving at eternal love”.
  • Personification: The grave is attributed with human traits, in the lines: “when the grave locks you up/ that is when your soul is freed”.
  • Allusion: Rumi introduces the character of Joseph from the Quran, also seen in the Bible, who was thrown to a well by his brothers, sold to travelers, and ended up becoming the King of Israel.


Theme

The central theme of the poem ‘When I Die’ is death and the afterlife. Rumi beautifully describes this theme and makes his readers feel that the inevitable death cannot put an end to the immortal soul. Death helps one’s soul to arrive at “eternal love.” He hints at the fact that every human is made of mud, and to mud, they shall return. That is, however, not the end. The eternal paradise waits behind the “curtain” of the grave. In this way, Rumi advises readers not to be afraid of dying. By using the word “remember,” he reminds readers that the mortal body is assigned to die one day, but like the fallen seed, the soul rises from the grave to sets on its journey to paradise.

FAQs

What is the poem ‘When I Die’ about?

In ‘When I Die,’ Rumi explores his ideas on life after death which is compared to “a curtain for the paradise behind”. This poem is about the immortality of the soul, the inevitability of death, and the new life after physical death. Rumi uses symbolism to express his views of death and the afterlife. He keeps a positive attitude throughout the poem, though he talks about his own death.

What is the main theme of ‘When I Die’?

This poem taps on the themes of death, the afterlife, the immortality of the soul, and life. Throughout the poem, Rumi emphasizes his ideas about death and how it is a new beginning for the soul. The demise of the body is inevitable, and so is the existence of eternity after death. He compares the soul to a “seed” that is fallen to the earth, and it will rise again.

How does Rumi indicate his thoughts about eternal life in ‘When I Die’?

Rumi introduces different ideas to hint at the eternal life after mortal death. According to him, death is like the sunset, but in reality, it’s the beginning of a new dawn. Like the fallen seed to the ground, the soul will rise to heaven. The speaker also alludes to the Prophet Joseph, who fell into a well and later became a King after being redeemed.

How does Rumi use symbolism in ‘When I Die’?

Rumi uses various symbols, such as the “grave”, “curtain”, the setting sun, and “well”. He believes in eternity that begins after the physical death of the body. This idea is explored through various stock symbols as well as religious symbols, such as Joseph and the well. Besides, he symbolizes death as a “dawn”, “seed”, and “curtain for the paradise behind”.


Similar Poetry

The following list contains a number of poems that tap on the themes present in Rumi’s ‘When I Die’.

You can also explore these incredible poems about death.

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Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
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A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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