Soul Food: “Who Am I?”

May 23rd, 2011 § 0 comments

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian and a participant in the German resistance movement. He participated in plans to assassinate Hitler (despite being a pacifist), was arrested and executed. He wrote this poem a month before his execution.

Who am I? They often tell me I would step from my prison cell
poised, cheerful and sturdy,

like a nobleman from his country estate.
Who am I? They often tell me I would speak with my guards
freely, pleasantly and firmly,
as if I had it to command.
Who am I? I have also been told that I suffer the days of misfortune
with serenity, smiles and pride,
as someone accustomed to victory.

Am I really what others say about me?
Or am I only what I know of myself?
Restless, yearning and sick, like a bird in its cage,
struggling for the breath of life,
as though someone were choking my throat;
hungering for colors, for flowers, for songs of birds,
thirsting for kind words and human closeness,
shaking with anger at capricious tyranny and the pettiest slurs,
bedeviled by anxiety, awaiting great events that might never occur,
fearfully powerless and worried for friends far away,
weary and empty in prayer, in thinking, in doing,
weak, and ready to take leave of it all.

Who am I? This man or the other?
Am I then this man today and tomorrow another?
Am I both all at once? An imposter to others,
but to me little more than a whining, despicable weakling?
Does what is in me compare to a vanquished army,
that flees in disorder before a battle already won?

Who am I? They mock me these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, you know me, O God. You know I am yours.

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