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The Faber Book of Epigrams and Epitaphs

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Triumphant Demons stand, and Angels start,
To see the abysses of the human heart. — Landor

English poetry is supposed to be short in epigrams. But here there is a choice of more than 700 epigrams and epitaphs (which are epigrams of a special kind) from the sixteenth century to our time, familiar, unfamiliar, and even unknown. This ancient art of witty and satirical and also tender compression – an art as old as Plato and as young as the youngest living poet – has found its English masters in Herrick, Prior, Pope, Blake, Burns, Walter Savage Landor, Patmore and in twentieth-century masters Belloc and Robert Graves, all poets of strong liking or disliking. But poet after poet, major and minor and anon, has hated, loved, laughed, ridiculed, in couplets and quatrains, taking his cue from the great Latin epigrammatist Martial, from the Latin epigrammatists of the Renaissance (in Elizabethan times every Winchester schoolboy was expecting to be able to write a neat Latin epigram) or from the Greek Anthology of from his own English (and French) predecessors.

Here lie the bones of Elizabeth Charlotte,
That was born a virgin and died a harlot.
She was aye a virgin at seventeen,
An extraordinary thing for Aberdeen. — Anon

He served his God so faithfully and well
That now he sees him face to face, in hell. — Belloc

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