epigram, a short, polished, pithy saying, usually in verse, often with a satiric or paradoxical twist at the end. The term was originally applied by the Greeks to the inscriptions on stones. The epigrams of the Latin poet Martial established the form for many later writers. In England the epigram flourished in the work of innumerable poets including Donne, Herrick, Ben Jonson, Pope, Byron, Coleridge, and Walter Savage Landor. Great German epigrammatists include Logau, Lessing, and Herder. In 18th-century France, Boileau-Despréaux, Lebrun, and Voltaire excelled in the form. Poets of the 20th cent. who are noted for their epigrams include Yeats, Pound, Roy Campbell, and Ogden Nash. One of the most brilliant of prose epigrammatists was Oscar Wilde. His works are studded with epigrams, such as "I can resist everything except temptation."
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.