Who am I?

In the future I’d like to incorporate more poetry on this blog. There are at least three or four poems that come immediately to mind which have special meaning to me, and one of them is Dietrch Bonhoeffer’s Who am I, written from prison in Nazi Germany some time before his death in 1945. Dietrich writes,

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
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.

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 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!

Beautiful words. I can relate to so much of the emtion conveyed through these verses, as I’m sure you probably can, too. If you don’t know much about Bonhoeffer I would encourage further study. His was an incredible life and message.

In the coming days I’ll share some more of my favorite poetry. In the meantime I would love to hear from my readers which poems you enjoy. The comments section is yours, so fire away! What is one of your favorite poems?


About Joshua

Writer, husband, father, friend. View all posts by Joshua

8 responses to “Who am I?

  • sybiljean



    I awoke
    this morning
    in the gold light
    turning this way
    and that

    thinking for
    a moment
    it was one
    like any other.

    the veil had gone
    from my
    darkened heart
    I thought

    it must have been the quiet
    that filled my room,

    it must have been
    the first
    easy rhythm
    with which I breathed
    myself to sleep,

    it must have been
    the prayer I said
    speaking to the otherness
    of the night.

    I thought
    this is the good day
    you could
    meet your love,

    this is the black day
    someone close
    to you could die.

    This is the day
    you realize
    how easily the thread
    is broken
    between this world
    and the next

    and I found myself
    sitting up
    in the quiet pathway
    of light,

    the tawny
    close grained cedar
    burning round
    me like fire
    and all the angels of this housely
    heaven ascending
    through the first
    roof of light
    the sun has made.

    This is the bright home
    in which I live,
    this is where
    I ask
    my friends
    to come,
    this is where I want
    to love all the things
    it has taken me so long
    to learn to love.

    This is the temple
    of my adult aloneness
    and I belong
    to that aloneness
    as I belong to my life.

    There is no house
    like the house of belonging.

  • Josh

    Excellent, Sybil! Thank you!

  • david bolton

    Josh, thanks for sharing Bonhoeffer’s “Who am I?” I had not read that before. I was touched by the deep wrestlings of his heart. So real.

    One of my favorite poems is the following by John Wright Follette:


    God’s plow struck deep within my heart

    And plowed long furrows, one by one,

    Through fallow ground so hard and firm,

    From early morn till set of sun.

    The plow-share was eternal TRUTH

    Which tore the hidden roots in me

    And turned them to the light and air

    Till self-hood lay a field set free.

    I felt Him walk each furrow plowed,

    I knew He felt the briars sting,

    Tie field was His– it was His joy,

    For low I heard the plowman sing.

    He only plowed that He might sow,

    There must be seed to scatter wide.

    And then I felt His presence near,

    He stood in silence by my side.

    And so I gave Him all of me–

    My hopes, and dreams and inner throne.

    All these He scattered far and near,

    And left me naught to call my own.

    They fell like seed in furrows deep,

    And all were buried ‘neath the sod.

    All that I had went dozen in death

    To wait the mighty breath of God.

    He did not leave me then alone

    To mourn the loss of earthly things,

    To be thus stripped gave greater place

    For life His radiant presence brings.

    How could I grieve for heart thus plowed?

    I covet now no sweeter thing

    Than wait with Him till harvest day,

    And in the mean time hear Him sing.

    –John Wright Follette

    I also love his poem, “The Call of Deep Unto Deep”.

  • If « Called to Rebuild

    […] post I shared one of my favorite poems, Who am I? by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A few of my readers were kind […]

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