Fleeing from a victory already achieved

“Who am I?”

By Dietrich Bonhoeffer (March 4, 1945)

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 warders
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 colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
trembling 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.

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Who am I?” in Letters & Papers From Prison (New York: Touchstone, 1953/1997), 347-8.

via “Who am I?” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer | Tolle Lege.

HT:  Ryan Gilles

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  • trotk

    When I first read this poem last February, I felt like Bonhoeffer had read my mind and heart. Thanks for posting it.

  • trotk

    When I first read this poem last February, I felt like Bonhoeffer had read my mind and heart. Thanks for posting it.

  • Susan

    Just wow. How eloquent the words of a believer who beats his breast like the Pharisees’ opposite number of old-‘God have mercy on me, a sinner’…
    Groaning, like all men and the creation, for his/my/our/its final redemption.

    He speaks for me.

  • Susan

    Just wow. How eloquent the words of a believer who beats his breast like the Pharisees’ opposite number of old-‘God have mercy on me, a sinner’…
    Groaning, like all men and the creation, for his/my/our/its final redemption.

    He speaks for me.

  • Helen K.

    Susan @2.
    “He speaks for me”. Yes, and for me as well! Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

  • Helen K.

    Susan @2.
    “He speaks for me”. Yes, and for me as well! Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

  • Bonhoeffer – a true CHRISTIAN hero who took a lonely stand against evil-when so few Christian “leaders” did NOT-
    Kind of like today!
    Carol-CS

  • Bonhoeffer – a true CHRISTIAN hero who took a lonely stand against evil-when so few Christian “leaders” did NOT-
    Kind of like today!
    Carol-CS