"Whose Game Was Empires And Whose Stakes Were Thrones"
Context: Byron hated Napoleon Bonaparte, as he hated all tyrants. When the emperor was defeated and forced to abdicate in April, 1814, retiring to the Island of Elba, Byron wrote an ode to him. In it Byron deplores the fact that this monster who had laid waste to all Europe is still alive; and he compares Napoleon to George Washington, who was content to ensure his country's greatness and then step aside. Napoleon returned unexpectedly to France in 1815 and raised still another army; this time he was administered a final and irrevocable defeat at Waterloo. He was then exiled to St. Helena, an island off the west coast of Africa, where he was guarded by the British against escape until his death in 1821. Only after Bonaparte was dead were many countries able to breathe freely again.
In 1823 Byron wrote a lengthy verse satire entitled The Age of Bronze, in which he once again examines the emperor. The underlying theme of the poem is that all greatness is fleeting and that the most powerful of men are mortal: "How peaceful and how powerful is the grave,/ Which hushes all!" He mentions Alexander, who in trying to conquer the world knew nothing of its extent and whose world now lies in ruins; then he turns to a much more modern example of the conqueror reduced to insignificant mortality: Napoleon on St. Helena. The man before whom all the world trembled now must squabble over petty things:But where is he, the modern, mightier far,Who, born no king, made monarchs draw his car;The new Sesostris, whose unharness'd kings,Freed from the bit, believe themselves with wings,And spurn the dust o'er which they crawled of late,Chain'd to the chariot of the chieftain's state?Yes! where is he, the champion and the childOf all that's great or little, wise or wild?Whose game was empires and whose stakes were thrones?Whose table earth–whose dice were human bones?Behold the grand result in yon lone isle,And, as thy nature urges, weep or smile.Sigh to behold the eagle's lofty rageReduced to nibble at his narrow cage;Smile to survey the queller of the nationsNow daily squabbling o'er disputed rations;Weep to perceive him mourning, as he dines,O'er curtail'd dishes and o'er stinted wines,O'er petty quarrels upon petty things,–Is this the man who scourged or feasted kings?Behold the scales in which his fortune hangs,A surgeon's statement and an earl's harangues!A bust delay'd, a book refused, can shakeThe sleep of him who kept the world awake.