‘Epigram’ is a literary figure of speech consisting of a short, witty statement often to show the opposite ideas, explain something briefly, and understand the general truth or comment. Example of an Epigram is mentioned below.
Originated from the Latin word “epigramma”. Many writers like Herrick, William Drummond, Dryden and Swift used this literary device in their writing.
A literary figure of speech consists of a short, witty statement often to show the opposite ideas, explain something briefly, and understand the general truth or comment. Its words seem contradictory; however, it discloses some significant meaning beneath. ‘Epigram’ is an easy way to grasp the audience’s attention and make them think about the sentence.
This literary device is closely associated with Antithesis. In writing, the writers employ the words in brevity to put lasting effect upon readers’ minds or convert the attention towards some general observation but in a funny way. ‘Epigram’ can be humorous, paradoxical and wife. Francis Bacon explains the Epigram as a “strange desire to seek power and to lose liberty”.
Through this short, witty statement, ‘Bacon’ is disclosing the deep meaning that the people desirous of becoming powerful often lose their liberty. They used to remain busy with their work and do not enjoy life like others.
Example of an Epigram:
- The highest art is to disguise art.
- ‘Life is a tale told by an idiot.
- The child is the father of the man
- The hard days will bring joy.
- Hard work is the key to success.
- He makes no friend who never made a foe.
- Little strokes fell great oaks. (Franklin)
- I can resist everything except temptation. (Oscar Wilde)
Examples in Literature
Of Great Places by Francis Bacon
“The rising unto place is laborious; and by pains, men come to greater pains’, and it is sometimes base; and by indignities, men come to dignities”
On Donne’s Poetry by S.T. Coleridge
“With Donne, whose muse on dromedary trots, Wreathe iron pokers into true love knots Rhymes sturdy cripple, fancy’s maze and clue, Wits forge and fire blast, meaning’s press and screw”.
In the above stanza, Coleridge describes his work in these lines by considering John Donne’s ability and intelligence in combining divergent images, delicacy and intensive intellectual work.
Landor is considered as the expert of genre. He wrote a good many including this:
“Go on, go on, and love away! Mine was, another’s is, the day Go on, go on, thou false one! Now Upon his shoulder rest thy brow, And look into his eyes until Thy own, to find them colder, fill
The Statue by Hilaire Belloc
“When we are dead, some Hunting boy will pass And find a stone ha’f hidden in tall grass, And grey with age, but hav’ng seen that stone, Which was your image ride more slowly on”.
And de la Mare’s:
‘Homo? Construe!’ the stern-faced usher said, Groaned George, ‘A man, sir’. Yes, Now sapiens?’ George shook a stubborn head, And signed in deep distress
- Sometime in a verse an epigram takes the form of a couplet or quatrain as part of a poem. For example in the “Essay on Criticism” by Pope, he uses epigram:
We think o’r fath’rs fools, so wise we grow’ Our wis’r sons’, no doubt, wi’l think us so.
To a Skylark by P.B. Shelly
Our sweet’st songs are those that te’l of saddest thought.
- In Sonnet 76, Why is my verse so barren of new pride by William Shakespeare, use of epigram is evidence as under,
“So all my best is dressing old word’s new, Spending again what is already spent, For as the ‘sun is daily new and old, So is my love still telling what is told.
Here the “sweetest’’ and the “saddest” oppose each other but in deep meanings the sadder the song the deeper the impression it makes.
Difference between epigram and aphorism
It is challenging to extract epigram from aphorism because both devices produce short and witty effects. However, ‘epigram is a paradoxical statement often having an ironic effect, while ‘aphorism’ is a statement of truth principle that was didactically used.
The verse epigram was relatively used in the 16th century and onwards, especially in prose or speech, to express something briefly and humorously. In recent times the use of epigram has become rare.
‘Oscar Wilde’ used this literary device to create witty as he said, “Fort years of romance make a woman look like a ruin, and forty years of marriage make her look like a public building”. In ‘’La Belle Otero, the 19th-century courtesan, the epigram is vividly used as, “God made women beautiful so that men would love them, and he made them stupid so that they could love men”.
The poets, on a large scale, have used epigram. Epigrammatists like Lord Chesterfield, George Bernard Shaw, Byron, F.E. Smith and Ogden Nash used this literary device repeatedly in their works.