Who am I? by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

If you don’t know by now, Bonhoeffer is one of my favorites for reading. I recently came across this poem of his. This dissonance he speaks of is surely not a foreign feeling to a lot of people. Who am I? Am I who others say I am? Am I who I see myself to be? On the sociological end, this gets into Cooley’s looking glass self concept (no time for that now) and on the spiritual end, this makes me think of when Paul says “for what i want to do I do not do, but what i hate i do.” (Romans 7). When we see two selves, which one are we to believe is true? How do we reconcile conflicting interests or actions within ourselves? Who am I? Don’t miss Bonhoeffer’s indecisive but powerful conclusion: Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine! 

I was captivated by the poem. And if, like me, you sometimes find yourself in the shoes he speaks of, at least we are in good company 🙂 Enjoy..

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 thought 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 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 expectations 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.

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! 


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