Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the most distinguished young theologians of the 1930s.  He was an ordained Lutheran minister, pastored churches in Germany, Spain and England, and taught Christian Ethics on theology faculties in Germany and the U.S.  He could have escaped becoming involved in the struggle against the rising power of Hitler, but he and other leaders in the “Confessing Church” felt that their faith compelled them to take a stand.  In 1943 he was arrested, and he remained in prison until he was hanged in April, 1945.  He was only 39 years old when he died.

While in prison, Bonhoeffer wrote this poem reflecting on the meaning of his life.

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 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!