An epigram is a type of poem that is characterized by brevity and cleverness. It focuses on a single idea and expresses a surprising thought in just a few words.
Typically consisting of rhymed couplets or quatrains that have unexpected conclusions, epigrams may also be one-line and non-rhyming quips. Terse observations like Oscar Wilde’s many witty statements are good examples of non-rhyming epigrams.
The epigram originated in ancient Greece as a poetic inscription on a statue or monument, and brevity was not a requirement as it is now. A clever conclusion was common but not obligatory. As a written literary genre that spread to Rome and later throughout Europe, it became more satirical and typically ended with a joke. The epigram in its modern form is considered to have been created in the first century AD by Martial, a Roman poet who composed twelve books of poems in the genre.
Here lies my wife: here let her lie!
Now she's at rest — and so am I.
— John Dryden
I am His Highness' dog at Kew;
Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?
— Alexander Pope
Fell great oaks.
— Benjamin Franklin