Top 10 Epigram Examples To Study

Witty sayings and short poems are known as epigrams. Here are 10 epigram examples that stood the test of time.

When you’re searching for examples of epigrams, you’ll notice that many great minds throughout history provided witty statements that have entertained generations. 

The definition of epigram is simple: it’s a witty statement or short poem that conveys a clever or satirical statement to the reader. No specific poetic form is required—an epigram is simply a literary device that conveys a quick, thoughtful message, often employing paradox or wordplay. It’s key to note that an epigram is different than an aphorism (a short statement that conveys a universal truth, such as “honesty is the best policy”).

Whether you already have a favorite epigrammatist (like Benjamin Franklin) or you’re new to the idea of using an epigrammatic style, you’ll find that reading a good example of an epigram isn’t just educational—it’s fun!

Top epigram examples

1. “There is only one thing worse in the world than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” – Oscar Wilde

One of the most well-known epigrammatists of all time, Oscar Wilde is known for his snarky, intelligent one-liners. In this famous epigram, Wilde describes how difficult it is to be the subject of gossip—but how it’s even harder to live a life that goes unnoticed by the world. We’d guess that the aphorism “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” would have been right up Wilde’s alley.

2. “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” – William Blake

English poet William Blake wasn’t well-known during his lifetime, but today, his epigrams, art, and poetry are widely recognized as defining parts of the Romantic Age. His thoughts on nature and the infinite wonder of the universe have captured the minds of students, philosophers, and critical thinkers for centuries.

3. “I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury.” – Groucho Marx

Epigram Examples: "I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury." - Groucho Marx
ABC Photo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Comedian, actor, and writer Groucho Marx wasn’t just known for his command of the silver screen, small screen, and the stage. He’s also beloved for his zingy one-liners that made people laugh—and think. Marx’s razor-sharp wit kept audiences on their toes from setting up a picnic lunch during a serious tennis match with Charlie Chaplin to wowing vaudeville crowds.

4. “I am unable, yonder beggar cries, To stand, or move; if he say true, he lies.” – John Donne

Now considered the first metaphysical poet, John Donne was born in 1572. He’s best known for his paradoxical work, delving into common questions of the human condition, including faith, love, and salvation. While much of Donne’s work was quite serious in nature, his epigrams provide readers with a view into his unique sense of humor.

Epigrams give you pause for thought and plenty to think about. Much like this collection of thoughtful quotes.

5. “So all my best is dressing old words 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.” – William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare
Some academics believe that Shakespeare was writing these poems to a young man

The last four lines of Sonnet 76 include some of the most well-known epigrams in the English language. There is some argument amongst literary scholars about Shakespeare’s Fair Youth sequence, including Sonnet 76. Some academics believe that Shakespeare was writing these poems to a young man, while others believe they were written to a young woman. 

6. “Little strokes fell great oaks.” – Benjamin Franklin

Known for his wit and ingenuity, Benjamin Frankin was a one-of-a-kind wordsmith who never failed to express himself through prose. In this epigram, Franklin speaks of persistence and commitment to a task, using small steps to accomplish a larger goal.

7. “Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.” – John F. Kennedy

JFK had a flexible defense strategy that required careful calculation of military moves, minimizing the chance of miscalculating a threat. Kennedy’s interest in international matters took root while he was a student at Harvard, long before he began his presidential run. 

8. “To err is human, to forgive, divine.” – Alexander Pope

Born in the late 17th century, Alexander Pope was an English satirist and poet known for speaking out against the accepted morality of the time. While Pope certainly was not the first popular writer, he’s widely regarded as the first writer to make a living from their craft, as he earned money from those who subscribed to his translations of Homer and his editions of Shakespeare’s works.

9. “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.” – Dorothy Parker

New York City-based poet and writer Dorothy Parker was known for her quick-witted quips, often laced with language and an attitude considered shocking in the early 21st century. A shining example of Parker’s attitude and love for epigrams was made clear when she asked for “Excuse my dust” for her epitaph.

10. “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Strength, grace, and wit are synonymous with Eleanor Roosevelt’s legacy. The longest-serving First Lady in American history was known for her activism as much as her command of the English language, as evidenced by her many epigrams that are still quoted today.

For more interesting quotes, check out our article on inspiring creative quotes.

Poetry Resources

10 Sonnet Examples From Ancient Italy To Today

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10 Ballad Examples Everyone Should Learn

Top 10 Concrete Poem Examples

Top 10 Limerick Examples To Make You Laugh

Free Verse Examples: 12 Top Poems To Consider

Top 10 Ekphrastic Poem Examples

Villanelle Poem Examples To Study

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