“Who am I?” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Near the centennial of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s birth in 2006 I happened across a documentary on PBS about his life and the events that led to his martyrdom. I have forgotten many details but I do often reflect on the poem below which he wrote in prison.

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a squire from his country-house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
Like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were
compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectation of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine!

4 responses to ““Who am I?” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  1. Beautiful. And even more powerful in an age of invented superheroes. Thanks for sharing. I have his biography waiting to be read.

  2. Pingback: The Boldly Intolerant God of Dietrich Bonhoeffer « The Largest Democracy

  3. Pingback: The Choking Burden of Worry « Learning to Be

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