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27 Jun

The Chance of Humming by Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi

The Chance of Humming (Pearls from the Deep)

Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi

Summary and Analysis

“The Chance of Humming” by Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi emphasises the importance of living in the present. The poem views life as a journey. A harmonization of opposites is necessary if one has to undertake this journey. Human life is likened to travelling downstream a river, standing on two logs. The logs are evidently symbolic of the dualities man encounters through his journey – they could be life and death, time and space, the past and the present, the heart and the brain, reason and passion, or even the body and the soul. For life to be successful, a happy juxtaposition of these dualities is a must. Rather than understanding binaries as opposites, life demands us to view them as parts of a continuum or as a harmonious whole. In other words, for life’s journey to take off, the two logs need to be tied together. Further, the two logs should stay parallel to each other for us to stand on it, clearly suggesting that both logs signify truths that demand equal attention. A balanced view of life demands us to understand and accept that there is not always a single truth. Life then becomes a balancing act, harmonising opposites and finding harmony in chaos.

The poem is also about enjoying the ride without focussing too much on the end. Rumi stresses the importance of always staying awake, always living in the present. Life should not be lived like a hundred meter dash with the finishing point alone in sight. Rather, to enjoy life, we must acknowledge that the means is as important, if not more, as the end itself. Life must be lived in the spirit of a long distance runner, enjoying and absorbing the beautiful sights along the journey. For that to happen, an uncluttered mind is necessary. The mind should not wander on its own with feelings of remorse or nostalgia for the past. Nor should it meander too much into the future, messing things up with fears and anxieties. It is important for us to realise that the present moment is all that we have, and hence, that we need to celebrate it the best way we can.

The whole poem can be understood as an allegory on the journey of human life. The poem presents a man standing on two logs in a river. Rumi says that the man’s trip downstream will be joyful and exciting if he is “floating with the current”. Literally, the term current signifies movement of the river water downstream. Metaphorically, current can also be understood as the present moment, clearly suggesting the importance of being in the present to lead a successful life. When the man floats with the current, he can hum “in the now”. We can safely assume that humming here signifies the happiness and exhilaration felt by the traveller. It could also be about being ‘carefree’ and ‘careless’, for the more we get carried away by cares of life, the lesser shall be the chance of relaxing and humming.

The poem moves to a hypothetical situation now. It could be plausible that one of the logs is tied to a camel. If the camel moves in the same direction as the current, and at the same pace, everything would still be fine. However, if the camel feels that he has forgotten something, and abruptly turns upstream, then the situation shall turn grim and chaotic. The river heads south to be one with the mighty ocean. The journey of human life moves on in the hope of becoming one with God. If the human mind gets preoccupied, either with pangs of the past, or with concerns for the future, then the spontaneity and ease of the journey can get disturbed. In other words, if the mind rebels against the flow of time, against the flow of human evolution, the progress of the species can get stunted. Travelling along the bank and at the same pace can also be understood as the breadth of mind and openness of the heart to respond to and accept change. The faster the mind accepts change and gets accustomed to it, the smoother and easier shall be life afterwards.

The final stanza isn’t about the journey of the traveller. Rather, it unravels the message of the poem rather explicitly. The poet regrets that most people refuse to live in the present and gets stuck with some idea or emotion. Most people abruptly break away from the smooth flow of life, and thereby thwart the chance of humming in the present. It is quite natural for people to get caught either in feelings of sorrow and regret for the past or in mixed emotions of hope and anxiety for the future. Life can get monotonous when we get stuck.

Sticking to a “reasonable plan” could also be about the methodical and ordered life of a man of reason who refuses to see the loveliness of the present moment. The artist and the mystic poet that Rumi is, it is expressly possible that Rumi is making a call for an artistic approach to life, which embraces change, and refuses to get stuck. The poem is also a passionate appeal against the narrow-mindedness and obstinacy that people develop during their life journey. Thus, through the poem, the poet exhorts us to celebrate differences, change with the changing times and bask in the glory of the present moment.

 

The Chance of Humming

A man
standing on two logs in a river
might do all right floating with the current
while humming in the
now.

Though
if one log is tied to a camel,
who is also heading south along the bank - at the same pace-
all could still be well
with the 
world
unless the camel
thinks he forgot something, and
abruptly turns upstream,
then
uh-oh.

Most minds
do not live in the present
and can stick to a reasonable plan; most minds abruptly turn
and undermine the
chance
of
humming. 

Comprehension Questions

A1. How is the man able to hum in the now?

The man is able to hum in the now when he floats with the current. Humming here signifies the happiness and exhilaration felt by the traveller. Literally, the term current signifies movement of the river water downstream. Metaphorically, current can also be understood as the present moment, suggesting the importance of living in the present.

 

A2. Where is the man’s camel heading and at what pace?

The camel is heading south (downstream) with the current. He moves at the same pace as the man floating on the logs downstream. The poet say that if the camel does this, everything would still be well with the world.

 

A3. How do the journeys of the camel and the man go in tandem with each other?

In the hypothetical situation presented in the second stanza of the poem, we find the camel and the man go in tandem with each other. The situation arises when one of the logs is tied to a camel. If the camel moves in the same direction as the current, and at the same pace, everything would be fine.

 

A4. Why does the camel turn upstream?

In the hypothetical situation presented in the second stanza of the poem, we find the camel and the man go in tandem with each other at first. However, if the camel feels that he has forgotten something, and abruptly turns upstream, then the journey will become troublesome.

 

A5. What does the exclamation uh-oh refer to?

During the course of the journey downstream, if the camel feels that he has forgotten something, it will abruptly turn upstream. The journey will become troublesome then. The poem represents it with the exclamation uh-oh. It is the sound that people make when they realise that they have made a mistake.

 

A6. According to Rumi, what do most minds do?

Most minds do not live in the present and get stuck to a reasonable plan; most minds abruptly turn and weaken the chance of humming. The poet suggests that most people abruptly break away from the smooth flow of life, and thereby ruin the chance of humming in the present. If the human mind gets preoccupied, either with pangs of the past, or with concerns for the future, then the ease of life will be lost.

 

B1. Describe the journey of the man.

As the poem “The Chance of Humming” begins, we find a man standing on two logs in a river. Rumi says that the man’s trip downstream will be joyful and exciting if he is “floating with the current”. When the man floats with the current, he can hum “in the now”. Humming signifies the happiness felt by the traveller. It could be possible that one of the logs is tied to a camel. If the camel moves in the same direction as the current, and at the same pace, everything would still be fine. However, if the camel feels that he has forgotten something, and abruptly turns upstream, then the journey will become difficult. The whole poem can be understood as an allegory on the journey of human life. It views life as a journey and emphasises the importance of living in the present.

 

B2. How, according to Rumi, will a man lose his chance of humming?

According to Rumi, a man loses his chance of humming when he refuses to live in the present. Most minds do not live in the present and get stuck to a reasonable plan; most minds abruptly turn and weaken the chance of humming. The poet regrets that most people refuse to live in the present and gets stuck with some idea or emotion. Most people abruptly break away from the smooth flow of life, and thereby lose the chance of humming in the present. It is quite natural for people to get caught either in feelings of sorrow and regret for the past or in mixed emotions of hope and anxiety for the future. Life can get monotonous when we get stuck. It is important for us to realise that the present moment is all that we have, and hence, that we need to celebrate it the best way we can. Through the poem, the poet exhorts us to flow freely without any remorse for the past or anxiety for the future and bask in the glory of the present moment.

 

B3. How can most minds gain plenty of chances for humming?

Most minds can gain plenty of chances for humming by flowing freely in life and living in the present. In the poem, human life is compared to travelling downstream a river, standing on two logs. The logs are evidently symbolic of the dualities man encounters through his journey – they could be life and death, time and space, the past and the present, the heart and the brain, reason and passion, or even the body and the soul. The mind gets plenty of chance for humming when these dualities are harmonised. Rumi stresses the importance of always staying awake, always living in the present. It is important for us to realise that the present moment is all that we have, and hence, that we need to celebrate it the best way we can. Through the poem, the poet exhorts us to flow freely without any remorse for the past or anxiety for the future and bask in the glory of the present moment.

 

Copyright © Manu Mangattu, Assistant Professor, Department of English, St Goege's College Aruvithura

Provide your Feedback/Suggestion/Requests for notes to manumangattu@gmail.com

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