Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Who am I?”

Today is the 70th anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s execution at the Flossenbürg concentration camp in Nazi Germany and of his words that were intended as a final message to George Bell, his dear friend and a bishop in the Church of England:

This is the end — for me the beginning of life.

Here is Bonhoeffer’s poem “Who am I?” that was written from prison in 1944 (the translation in Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 8, by Fortress Press):

Who am I? They often tell me
I step out from my cell
calm and cheerful and poised,
like a squire from his manor.

Who am I? They often tell me
I speak with my guards
freely, friendly and clear,
as though I were the one in charge.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bear days of calamity
serenely, smiling and proud,
like accustomed to victory.

Am I really what others say of me?
Or am I only what I know of myself?
Restless, yearning, sick, like a caged bird,
struggling for life breath, as if I were being strangled,
starving for colors, for flowers, for birdsong,
thirsting for kind words, human closeness,
shaking with rage at power lust and pettiest insult,
tossed about, waiting for great things to happen,
helplessly fearing for friends so far away,
too tired and empty to pray, to think, to work,
weary and ready to take my leave of it all?

Who am I? This one or the other?
Am I this one today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? Before others a hypocrite
and in my own eyes a pitiful, whimpering weakling?
Or is what remains in me like a defeated army,
Fleeing in disarray from victory already won?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, thou knowest me; O God, I am thine!

One thought on “Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Who am I?”

  1. Pingback: O God, I Am Thine! | Creo en Dios!

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