Epigram comes from the Latin word epigramma, which means “an inscription.” If you’ve ever seen an inscription on, say, the back of a watch, you know the writing has to be brief. It won’t surprise you, then, that epigrams are very short poems, sayings, or famous quotations, like Benjamin Franklin’s “Little strokes fell great oaks,” a memorable reminder to keep working toward big goals or to pay attention to little details, the opposite of an epigram from our era: “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
Epigram Meaning and Definition
An epigram is a succinct, thought-provoking, and insightful statement made in a witty, satirical, or humorous manner regarding a particular topic.
An epigram is described as “a brief poem or phrase that expresses an idea in a smart or amusing way” in the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary. An epigram is described as “a short saying or poetry that expresses a concept in a brilliant, hilarious way,” according to the Cambridge Dictionary, and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “a pithy, sage, or witty and frequently paradoxical remark.”
Epigram vs Proverb
To know the ways in which an epigram differs from a proverb, check out the following table.
|An epigram is a short, interesting and witty thought or idea on a particular subject, usually presented in a funny manner.||A proverb is a short statement that conveys a basic truth in a direct or satirical manner.|
|An epigram is usually said by someone and documented.||A proverb is not quoted by a specific person, but a general saying passed on from one generation to another.|
“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
A stitch in time saves nine.
The following key points are given below which help you to understand the epigram in the poem
- Epigrams typically rhyme to increase their memorability, however, there are exceptions to any rule (especially in poetry).
- Although a brief poem is most frequently referred to as a “epigram,” it can also refer to a section of a poem or even a line from a longer piece of writing.
- As in the most famous epigram by poet Ogden Nash, “Candy / Is dandy, / But liquor / Is speedier,” epigrams frequently feature an opposition or a contradiction that creates its clever “twist.”
- Epigrams were little poems that were buried with friends who had passed away in ancient Greece. Later, in ancient Rome, humour and wit came to be recognised as essential components of the epigram.
Here are a few examples of epigrams that you can go through.
- There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about. – Oscar Wilde
- “There are no gains without pains.” – Benjamin Franklin
- “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Oscar Wilde
- “The Child is father of the Man.” – William Wordsworth
- “Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.” – Oscar Wilde
- “Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.” – John F. Kennedy
- “The only ‘ism’ Hollywood believes in is plagiarism.” – Dorothy Parker
- “If we don’t end war, war will end us.” – H. G. Wells
- “Live simply, so that others may simply live.” – Mother Teresa
- “All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.” – Oscar Wilde
Epigram Examples in Literature
1. William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence”
These are the opening four lines of Blake’s long poem:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
This epigram is one of many within the poem. It urges readers to appreciate every moment and see the beauty and magnitude in all things.
2. Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest
In Act I, part 2 of Wilde’s play, Algernon comments:
All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy.
No man does. That’s his.
This epigram is perhaps the most famous from Wilde’s comedy. It posits that women are doomed to become like their mothers, while men are doomed to be nothing like their mothers. It’s a funny way of saying that neither outcome is ideal, but neither is avoidable either.
3. Alfred Lord Tennyson, “In Memoriam”
Tennyson’s famous elegy for his friend Arthur Henry Hallam contains the lines:
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
This epigram brings comfort to both the poem’s speaker and many readers who’ve encountered it during their own periods of bereavement.
4. James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
In Baldwin’s essay, he writes:
Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without
and know we cannot live within.
This epigram explores the pain and compassion Baldwin brought to his exploration of racial tensions in the United States.
5. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance
In Emerson’s famous examination of self-reliance, he declares that:
a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little
statesmen and philosophers and divines.
This epigram states sharply and neatly the importance of being open to change.
Epigram Meaning FAQs
Que. What is an epigram in literature?
Ans. An epigram is a short, pithy saying, usually in verse, often with a quick, satirical twist at the end. The subject is usually a single thought or event.
Que. What is an epigram in English?
Ans. An epigram is a succinct, thought-provoking, and insightful statement made in a witty, satirical, or humorous manner regarding a particular topic.
Que. Is epigram prose or poetry?
Ans. Although the term “epigram” is used most often to describe a short poem, it can also be used to describe a part of a poem, or even a sentence from a longer piece of prose.
Que. What is an example of an epigram?
Ans. For example: “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” – Eleanor Roosevelt.
Que. What is the difference between an epigram and a proverb?
Ans. A proverb and an epigram are both brief sayings, although they differ from one another in a few ways. A proverb is a brief remark that communicates a general truth and is not credited to any particular individual, whereas an epigram is a humorous, satirical, and perceptive comment made by a single person, usually someone who is well-known for their work in their forte. A further distinction between proverbs and epigrams is that the former have been passed down from generation to generation.