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From NPR

... And tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are:
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.

If I extract the main part of the sentence, it would be:

We are not strength.

Which is very odd. Because strength is only a noun to describe the physical power of a man, not the man himself. I know "that" can be used to describe how big, small, etc. I guess it could be used in this way here. So should the word strength be replace with strong? Just as follows:

And though we are not now that strong which in old days moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are: One equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.

2 Answers 2

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This is 19th-century poetry, and Tennyson was a little given to archaisms. A strength is an obsolete term for a company of troops, and Ulysses is addressing “my mariners”, the men whom he led to Troy and who passed many dangers with him on the return voyage. So he's saying “We aren’t that band of young warriors we once were, men capable of anything; but what we still are is heroically willing to try.”

Tennyson appears to have forgotten that Ulysses returned to Ithaca alone, all his companions having perished along the way.


See OED 1, 11.b.

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I think the strength there is uncountable noun and used to refer natural force. On the other hand, you are using strong as an adjective.

We are not [the strength that moved earth and heaven] - reading this way may make sense.

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