A Nation’s Strength

Central Idea: A Nation’s Strength is a beautiful patriotic poem written by “R.W. Emerson.” In this tiny poem, the poet reveals the secret of a nation’s strength. The poet asks several questions to discover the secret of the nation’s strength and he himself answers these questions. He says that the strength of a nation lies not in the wealth, power and pride but in its patriotic and determined men.

Important Words

defy: to resit boldly
foe: enemy
throng: to gather around in a crowd
shaft: the column of a building‘s foundation
rust: to become or cause something to become covered with rust; (here) decay
decay: to cause something to become gradually damaged, worse or less
pride: feeling of importance
lustre: brightness
a people : a nation
dare: to have the courage to do something difficult
fly: to run away in fear

Summary of A Nation’s Strength

The poem “A Nation’s Strength” is written by Ralph Waldo Emerson. The poet wonders about the things that make a nation strong. How can a nation’s pillars be made high and its foundations strong? How can a nation become strong enough to defend itself against powerful enemies? The poet wonders about these questions.

Then the poet says that it is not gold and silver that can make a nation great and strong, but it is the people who sacrifice for their country and make it great and strong. According to the poet, it is the brave men of a nation who work hard while others sleep and build the nation’s pillars deep and lift them to the sky. So it is not the riches but the honest and brave people that make a nation great.

Gold and material progress cannot make a nation strong. Material progress can not provide a strong base for a nation. The foundation made on the basis of wealth is like one made on sinking sand. How much grand a kingdom might be, war will destroy its material progress. The poet also states that many empires have disappeared as a result of the battles they fought. Their glory had decayed.

The poet goes on to say that the pride of a nation doesn’t lie in wearing glittering crowns. Soon, this pride reduces to ashes. The lustre and shine of the country lies with the people who are willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the nation. They work hard while others sleep. They raise the prestige of the country and build its pillars deep to make its foundation strong. Such people are the reason for the success of the nation.

Analysis of The Nation’s Strength

The poem has six stanzas, and is written in the relatively simply a b a b rhyme scheme. The first line is a question is “What makes a nation’s pillars high?” The next line asks a similar question, what makes a nation’s “foundations strong”. The analogy of a building is interesting, considering that Emerson goes on to describe how material conditions cannot make a nation strong. The building itself is a mere device to symbolize the construction of a structure.

The next two lines speak of what makes the nation might enough to defeat its enemies. Linking the first stanza together, the poet is creating the image of a strong, secluded structure of a nation which cannot be breached by enemies, thereby instilling in the reader a sense of pride and duty towards building a structure. The second stanza opens with a proclamation that “It is not gold”, with it being the nation’s strength. On the surface, gold represent luxury, the ultimate status symbol. If status is in consideration, gold could be a reference to the olden day monarchies where Kings reigned supreme, enjoyed lavish lifestyles and unquestionable authority. In such a context, this is a blatant criticism of the social structure that glorified and shone the spotlight on a few, while the majority of the population remained hidden from view. The line mentioned “kingdoms grand” is a critique of the ancient system of highly undistributed development fuelled by the monarchy.

Another way to look at gold is the material wealth and the accumulation of possession. Material progress: the building of higher and more opulent structures. They may seem shiny, golden and perfect, but all it takes is a “battle shock” for this carefully constructed aura of grandeur to shatter. The next line in the stanza speaks of the shafts of such kingdoms decked out in guild having their shafts laid on “sinking sand” as opposed to “abiding rock”. The difference in the qualities of these materials drives across a very powerful point. Sand cannot hold any solid structure of worth, as its own nature is neither smooth nor stable, and the possibility of the structure sinking into and being enveloped by the sand, leaving it in a state of nothingness is rather high. Rock, on the other hand, is dependable and tough to weather conditions it faces. The poet uses the term “abiding” to reflect this quality. In short, “gold” in all its flashy, high status glory is a mere sham when it comes to true greatness, because the very foundations upon which it seeks to grow development from, are not solid. He tells that all the factors which a common man believes to be linked to greatness of a nation, are actually mere shams. With this, he encourages a sense of hope in them that the greatness of a nation can be defined by them, and not factors beyond their control.

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In the third stanza, ‘The sword’ as a symbol depicts violence and bloodshed, and power seized through these means. The phrase “red dust” holds important significance here, as the poet describes how blood has turned stones to rust, and “glory to decay.” The stones referred to are the stones upon which the building called the nation was built. As the stones stained with blood rust over the ages, the red dust begins to gather. The red of the blood in the dust is the only sign that the empire ever existed. The term “dust” is powerful. Dust is irrelevant, an irritant and brushed away in a hurry. It gathers on old objects that are no longer cared for or worth anything. All the violence which people inflict upon each other, all the planning and strategy to win battle after battle, has no use. The stanza does not refer to a mere kingdom, but an Empire, which means its rulers clearly had considerable success with their tyrannical approach, and were able to conquer a lot of land by shedding more and more blood with every fight. But, in the end, their empire “passed away” and it was defeated in the battle of life itself. All that remained in the end were traces of the blood in the dust that had gathered on the empire long gone. The false glory which we waste our time trying to attain has no usage, because empires eventually turn into mere dust. The selection of dust to represent that something as inconsequential to dust during the conception and formation of an empire is the one thing which conquers what is remaining of it. Dust, is a natural element, so the message here is that nature will eventually take back whatever is claimed by violent means, and nothing can be done to stop this. It is a food for thought for all of us that even if people are subjected to violence and atrocities by a tyrant of a leader, he is grossly misguided and will ultimately fall.

In stanza four the idea is pride. Pride is the “bright crown” which appeals to nations so great and “sweet”; but ultimately, God will strike down on the lustre of the crown of pride, and it will lie “In ashes at his feet.” This stanza delivers a huge blow to what populations across the globe have been told for centuries to have. Those in power hide behind the veil of pride when telling their subjects to fight wars, and exploit nature for resources. Pride is a powerful drug. When a group of people is convinced to feel proud of having their own single nation, the people get addicted to this idea and get to any violent act to protect that tag. God strikes down this empire built on pride assuming its place at God’s feet as humbled ashes. The poet here tells people that if they are victims of the pride trap, God himself will ensure that these empires fall. This also serves as a warning to them to not use pride as a guiding light when considering actions that will make them great.

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The last two stanzas reveal that “Not gold” but rather, it is “only men” who can make a people or a nation great and strong. The values which are emphasized are truth, honour and standing fast to “suffer long” in the name of these values. A strong nation is made by the people who are brave and hardworking, even “while others sleep” and “dare while others fly.” According to Emerson, the foundations of a strong nation can only be built by these people, as they will build “pillars deep” and take the nation to greater heights, even as far as “the sky.”


A national consciousness can only become a universal one if there are unfalteringly strong ideas which are shared among those who hold it. Emerson, through “A Nation’s Strength” facilitates the development of such an idea, through the notion of a great nation. By dismissing wealth, violence and pride, factors which divide people’s opinions greatly, and providing the image of a recipe for greatness which requires only the relentless human spirit, he is not only uniting the consciousness of a nation, but also paving the way for tangible development.

Thinking about the text | Questions Answers

Q.1 In the first stanza, the poet wonders about a certain thing. What are they?

Ans. In the first stanza, the poet wonders about what makes a nation’s pillars high and its foundations strong, and what makes it strong to defend against its enemies.


Ans. In the first stanza the poet wonders at the height of pillars, the strength of foundations of a country and the things that can protect it against the attacks of the enemies who have crowded around it.

Q.2 What are the foundations of a strong kingdom built on?

Ans. The foundations of a strong kingdom are built on the greatness and toughness of people. It is built on their courage and truthfulness.


Ans. The foundations of a strong kingdom are built on the stamina of its inhabitants to protect their country’s honour and their will power to sacrifice for the sake of the country.

Q.3 What happens to a nation that depends on an army to keep its strong?

Ans. A nation that depends on an army does not last long after they shed blood which leads to their decay. Their glory ends soon after the bloody war.

Q.4 When a nation becomes proud, what does God do?

Ans. When a nation becomes proud and arrogant, God strikes it lustre down and reduces it to ashes.


Ans. When a nation becomes proud, God turns its pride and glory to ashes at his feet.

Q.5. Do you think wealth can make a nation great and strong?

Ans. No, wealth can’t make a nation great and strong. It is only men who can stand fast and suffer hardships for the sake of their nation. Only people have tendency to make a nations pillars deep and lift them to sky. Fields are won by those who believe only in winning.


Ans.No wealth cannot make a nation great and strong. Only honest and patriotic people can do so because material wealth is not permanent.

Q.6. What can the brave do?

Ans. The brave work hard while others sleep. While others fly, the brave dare. They, therefore, can make a nation great and strong.


Ans. The brave men work while others sleep. They dare to suffer so that their country may prosper.

Q.7 Explain the following line

The build a nation”s pillars deep
And lift them to the sky

Ans) In these lines, the poet says that the brave men lay the pillars of a nation deep on a strong foundation and lift them to the sky to great heights of glory.


Ans. In these lines, the poet says that brave men make the foundations of its nation strong. The poet compares the nation to a building and says that brave men build the pillars of a nation deep to lift them to sky. They are the reason behind the progress of a nation.

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Extra Questions

Q. Why are only the brave people called the strength of a nation?

Ans. Love of motherland is a great virtue. Only brave people of a nation are called the strength of the nation because they have a high moral character. They are the real strength of the nation because they are selfless, patriotic and responsible citizens. They are always ready to make sacrifices for the sake of the nation. They work hard for the progress and betterment of their beloved country. They work while others sleep. They dare while others fly. They dare to suffer so that their country may prosper.

Q. Who wrote the poem A Nation’s Strength, and what is the central idea of the poem?

Ans. The poem A Nation’s Strength has been written by Ralf Waldo Emerson. He was born in America.

The poem is based on the theme that thee real strength of a nation depends upon the people who are brave and have a high moral character. The poet conveys an ideas that wealth does not make a nation great and strong but only brave , bold and a honest men make the nation great, strong and powerful because they are ready to make every sacrifice for the welfare of their nation.

Q. What kind of people are needed to raise the dignity of a nation?


Q. What kind of men can lift their nation to the sky?

Ans. The brave men having high moral character build their nation on the foundation of lasting virtue. They work hard and give every sacrificed for the nation. The patriot and devoted men suffer every sort of trouble and hardship and make their sincere efforts for the glory of their country. Thus, only the bold and selfless men can lift their country to the sky.

Q. What is the message of the poem A Nation’s Strength?

Ans. The message of the poem is that the strength of a nation lies in determined and selfless men who make it great and strong. Weath does not make a nation powerful . The brave and selfless men alone fight for the cause of truth and honour. They never care for the personal loss. They lay down the foundation of their country very strong and deep. They raise its pillars very high to sky. Their courage, sacrifice and noble deeds glorify their nation.

1. In this poem, certain consonant sounds dominate e.g., m, n, f, s, r, d, p, h, b, g, l. List the words beginning with these consonants.

Ans. List of consonants:


2. The poem has a fixed rhyme scheme in each stanza i.e. abab. Pick out the rhyming words e.g.


Ans. List of rhyming words:












MCQs of The Nation’s Strength

1. Read the following lines and answer the questions that follow.

Not gold, but only men can make

A people great and strong;

Men who, for truth and honour’s sake,

Stand fast and suffer long.

Q1 A. From which poem is the above stanza taken?

a. How beautiful is the rain!

b. A Nation’s Strength

c. Paper Boat

d. Foreign Land

B. Name the poet of the poem from which the above stanza is taken?

a. Ralph Waldo Emerson

b. H.W. Longfellow

c. Walter De La Mare

d. Rabindranath Tagore.

C. What is the rhyme scheme of the above stanza?

a. aabb

b. abab.

c. abcd

d. abcb

D. Give the meaning of ‘fast’ from the poem.

a. high respect

b. firm.

c. to experience hurt or pain

d. support

E. Give the meaning of ‘suffer’ from the poem

a. high respect

b. firm

c. to experience hurt or pain.

d. support

2. What is not considered to be a nation’s strength?

a. gold.

b. citizens

c. hurt

d. support

3. Why do men ‘stand fast and suffer long’?

a. For money

b. For fame

c. For truth and honour.

d. For support

4. What kind of men work while others sleep?

a. coward

b. sleepy

c. brave.

d. lazy

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