"Who Am I," Poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer Written in Prison, 1945


Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor and martyr of the faith during the Nazi regime in Europe, struggled with his life, his faith, and his identity. From his prison cell he wrote about his internal conflict in his moving poem, "Who Am I?"

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 that which other men tell of?

Or am I only what I 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 colours, 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 contemptible 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!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the other German patriots held with him, were executed by hanging by one of Hitler's last orders in the closing days of World War II.--Ed.

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