The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018


Epigram: From the Greek for “inscription,” originally an inscription on a monument, then simply a short poem; now either a short poem with a brief, pointedly humorous, quotable ending or simply a witty, terse prose statement.

EXAMPLES: Martial’s Epigrams (12 books; A.D. 86—103); Ben Jonson’s Epigrams (1616). Persian poet Omar Khayyám’s Rubáiyát (c. eleventh—twelfth century), translated into English by Edward Fitzgerald and published in 1859 as the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, contains about 500 epigrams.

W. H. Auden’s volume of poetry About the House (1965) is full of witty little epigrams:

Money cannot buy

The fuel of Love:

But is excellent kindling.

Equally epigrammatic are John Lennon’s disingenuously innocent statement “All these financial takeovers and things — it’s just like Monopoly” and the statement “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives,” which begins every episode of the long-running soap opera Days of Our Lives (1965— ).