a poem from prison

24 March, 2006
Who Am I?
by Deitrich Bonhoeffer

Who am I?
They often tell me I would step from my cell’s
confinement calmly, cheerfully, firmly, like a squire from his
country-house.

Who am I?
They often tell me I would talk to my
warden freely and friendly and clearly, as though it were mine to
command.

Who am I?
They also tell me I would bear 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 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,
trembling with anger at despotisms and petty humiliation,
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.
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