Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Today is the 68th anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s martyrdom. Imprisoned because of his participation in the 1944 plot against Hitler, he was executed a few days before his prison camp was liberated by Allied forces. His writings while in prison were compiled as Letters and Papers from Prison. Included in it is the poem “Who am I.” Here’s an English translation that first appeared in the March 4, 1946 issue of Christianity and Crisis:

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

Equally, 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, 0 God, I am Thine!

The Dietrich Bonhoeffer home page is here. A recent essay from the New York Review of Books on Bonhoeffer and his brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi


1 thought on “Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  1. Thank you for this posting today. It was good to be reminded of him, to read the poem and then to say Morning Prayer using the Common of Martyrs.

    I don’t often reply these days but I often find good material like this that gets me thinking and reflecting in your postings, Father. Hope things are going well at Grace.

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