Quotations about   brevity

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If an epigram takes up a page, you skip it:
     Art counts for nothing, you prefer the snippet.
The markets have been ransacked for you, reader,
     Rich fare — and you want canapes instead!
I’m not concerned with the fastidious feeder:
     Give me the man who likes his basic bread.

[Consumpta est uno si lemmate pagina, transis,
Et breviora tibi, non meliora placent.
Dives et ex omni posita est instructa macello
Cena tibi, sed te mattea sola iuvat.
Non opus est nobis nimium lectore guloso;
Hunc volo, non fiat qui sine pane satur.]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 10, epigram 59 (10.59) [tr. Michie (1972)]
    (Source)

(Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

If one sole epigram takes up a page,
You turn it o'er, and will not there engage:
Consulting not its worth, but your dear ease;
And not what's good, but what is short, does please.
I serve a feast with all the richest fare
The market yields; for tarts you only care.
My books not fram'd such liq'rish guests to treat,
But such as relish bread, and solid meat.
[tr. Killigrew (1695)]

If one small theme exhaust a page,
'Though fli'st upon the wings of rage,
To fewer words, tho' not more fine;
And met'st my matter, by the line.
A rich repast, from ev'ry stall,
We see upon thy palate pall.
We fear a sickly appetite,
Where tid-bits onely can delight.
Out oh! may I receive no guest
Who picks the tiny for the best.
His taste wills tand him more to sted,
Who makes no meal up without bread.
[tr. Elphinston (1782), Book 3, ep. 11]

If one subject occupies a whole page, you pass over it; short epigrams, rather than good ones, seem to please you. A rich repast, consisting of every species of dish, is set before you, out only dainty bits gratify your taste. I do not covet a reader with such an over-nice palate; I want one that is not content to make a meal without bread.
[tr. Bohn's Classical (1859)]

You have no patience for the page-long skit,
Your taste is ruled by brevity, not wit.
Ransack the mart, make you a banquet rare,
You'll pick the titbit from the bill of fare;
I have no use for suchy a dainty guest;
Who ekes his dinner out with bread is best.
[tr. Street (1907)]

If a column is taken up by a single subject, you skip it, and the shorter epigrams please you, not the better. A meal, rich and furnished from every market, has been placed before you, but only a dainty attracts you. I have no need of a reader too nice: I want him who is not satisfied without bread.
[tr. Ker (1919)]

You like the shortest poems, not the best,
Tis those you always read -- and skip the rest;
I spread a varied banquet for your taste,
You take made dishes and the rest you waste.
And wrong your appetite, for truth to tell
A satisfying meal needs bread as well.
[tr. Pott & Wright (1921)]

You've read one epigram; the rest you skip;
Shortness, not sweetness suits your censorship.
A whole rich mart's outspread before your feet;
And yet a small tit-bit's your only treat.
I want no gluttonous reader, no, indeed!
Still I prefer one who on bread can feed.
[tr. Francis & Tatum (1924) ep. 554]

If a poem of mine fills up a page,
You pass it by. You'd rather read
The shorter, not the better ones.
A fear to answer every need,

Rich and varied, and supplied
With many viands widely drawn
From every shop is offered you,
And yet you glance at it with scorn,

The dainties only pleasing you.
Fussy reader, away! Instead
Give me a guest who with his meal
Must have some homely peasant bread.
[tr. Marcellino (1968)]

A whole damned page crammed with verse -- so you yawn!
     If a poem's too long you move swiftly on;
"Shorter the better!" is your golden rule.
     But markets are scoured to make the tongue drool;
A groaning board's set -- rich sauces for days --
     And yet, dear reader, you want canapés?
But I don't hunger for diners so prude:
     Hail meat and potatoes -- screw finger food!
[tr. Schmidgall (2001)]

If just one poem fills a page, you skip it.
     The short ones please you, not the best. I serve
a lavish dinner culled from every market,
     but you are only pleased with the hors d'oeuvre.
A finicky reader's not for me; instead,
     I want one who's not full without some bread.
[tr. McLean (2014)]

Added on 16-Sep-22 | Last updated 16-Sep-22
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Lest all overlook so tiny a book
And brevity lead to its loss,
I will not refuse such padding to use
As “Τὸν δ̕ ἀπαμειθόμενος.”

[Edita ne brevibus pereat mihi cura libellis,
Dicatur potius Τὸν δ᾽ ἀπαμειβόμενος.]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 1, epigram 45 (1.45) [tr. Pott & Wright (1921), “Poet’s Padding”]
    (Source)

Using a phrase ("to him in answer" or "answering him") that is repeated many, many times in Homer's epics, The Odyssey and The Iliad. (Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

Lest, in air, the mere lightness my distics should toss;
I'd rather sing δ̕ ἀπαμειθόμενος.
[tr. Elphinston (1782), 12.216]

That the care which I have bestowed upon what I have published may not come to nothing through the smallness of my volumes, let me rather fill up my verses with Τὸν δ̕ ἀπαμειθόμενος.
[tr. Bohn's Classical (1859)]

Lest his pains should be lost by publishing too short a book, he will fill it up with repetitions, like Homer's well-known verse.
[tr. Paley/Stone (1890)]

That my labor be not lost because published in tiny volumes, rather let there be added Τὸν δ̕ ἀπαμειθόμενος.
[tr. Ker (1919)]

For fear my fount of poetry run dry
"Him answering" is still my cuckoo-cry.
[tr. Francis & Tatum (1924), ep. 24]

Rather than have my work published in small volumes and so go to waste, let me say "to him in answer."
[tr. Shackleton Bailey (1993)]

Added on 1-Jul-22 | Last updated 1-Jul-22
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Beauty’s of a fading nature,
Has a season and is gone!

Robert Burns (1759-1796) Scottish national poet
“Will Ye Go and Marry, Katie?” (1764)
    (Source)
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Gaurus, you claim that since my poems please by brevity, my talent’s second-rate.
I grant they’re short. But you who write twelve books on Priam’s mighty battles, are you great?
I make small boys of bronze, who live and play;
you, great one, make a giant out of clay.

[Ingenium mihi, Gaure, probas sic esse pusillum,
Carmina quod faciam, quae brevitate placent.
Confiteor. Sed tu bis senis grandia libris
Qui scribis Priami proelia, magnus homo es?
5Nos facimus Bruti puerum, nos Langona vivum:
Tu magnus luteum, Gaure, Giganta facis.]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 9, epigram 50 (9.50) [tr. Kennelly (2008)]
    (Source)

"To Gaurus." (Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

Gaurus approves my wit but slenderly,
'Cause I write verse that please for brevity:
But he in twenty volumes drives a trade
Of Priam's wars. Oh, he's a mighty blade!
We give an elegant young pigmy birth,
He makes a dirty giant all of earth.
[tr. Fletcher (c. 1650)]

I am no genius, you affirm: and why?
Because my verses please by brevity.
But you, who twice ten ponderous volumes write
Of mighty battles, are a man of might.
Like Prior's bust, my work is neat, but small:
Yours like the dirty giants in Guildhall.
[tr. Hay (1755), ep. 51]

My pigmy-genius, you, grand bard, despise;
Because, by brevity, my verses rise.
But you, who Priam's battles dire endite,
In twice ten volumes wax a weighty wight:
We form a Brutus' boy, bid Lagon live;
And you a giant huge, of death-cold clay, do give.
[tr. Elphinston (1782), Book 3, ep. 28]

You pretend to consider my talent as small, Gaurus, because I write poems which please by being brief. I confess that it is so; while you, who write the grand wars of Priam in twelve books, are doubtless a great man. I paint the favourite of Brutus, and Langon, to the life. You, great artist, fashion a giant in clay.
[tr. Bohn's Classical (1859)]

You declare my genius slight;
Say the songs are short I write
     And so the people rush to buy them in a flood.
Think you, Gaurus, yours is great
Since in six tomes you narrate
     Old Priam's awful fight 'mid seas of blood?
Though they're boys whom I portray,
They're made boys who live and play.
     The Giants you create are made of mud.
[tr. Nixon (1911), "Of the Quality"]

You prove to me, Gaurus, that my genius is in this way a purny one, because I make poems that please by their brevity. I confess it. But you, who in twice six books write of Priam's wars in grand style, are you a great man? I make Brutus' boy, I make Langon live: you, great man as you are, Gaurus, make a giant of clay.
[tr. Ker (1920)]

But little, Gaurus, you account my wit,
Because with brevity I season it.
Quite true, and you, who of old Priam prate
Though twelve long books, are to be reckoned great.
I make a dwarf of living flesh and blood,
You, great one, make a giant, but of mud.
[tr. Francis & Tatum (1924), ep. 470]

You pontificate my talent is small,
Gaurus, because my epigrams are all
Just puny trifles. Yet they seem to please,
I'll confess. They're a veritable breeze
Compared to your epic tome, which rattles,
In twelve mortal books, o'er Priam's battles.
That makes you big man on campus? Oh no!
As statuettes of master carvers glow
With life, so do my tiny dramas boast
Vital creatures. Your giants? Clay, at most.
[tr. Schmidgall (2001)]

Added on 29-Apr-22 | Last updated 1-Jun-22
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“Write shorter epigrams,” is your advice.
Yet you write nothing, Velox. How concise!

[Scribere me quereris, Velox, epigrammata longa.
Ipse nihil scribis: tu breviora facis.]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 1, epigram 110 (1.110) [tr. McLean (2014)]
    (Source)

"To Velox." (Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

Velox complains my epigrams are long,
When he writes none: he sings a shorter song.
[tr. Fletcher (c. 1650)]

You say my epigrams, Velox, too long are:
You nothing write; sure yours are shorter far.
[tr. Wright (1663)]

Of my long epigrams, you, Swift, complain;
And nothing write: I laud your shorter strain.
[tr. Elphinston (1782), Book 12, ep. 16, "To Velox, or Swift"]

You complain, Velox, that the epigrams which I write are long. You yourself write nothing; your attempts are shorter.
[tr. Bohn's Classical (1859)]

You complain, Velox, that I write long epigrams, you yourself write nothing. Yours are shorter.
[tr. Ker (1919)]

"Such lengthy epigrams," you say, "affright one."
True, yours are shorter, for you never write one.
[tr. Pott & Wright (1921)]

You say I write lines longer than I ought?
It's true your lines are shorter -- they are nought.
[tr. Wills (2007)]

You say my epigrams are too long.
Yours are shorter.
You write nothing.
[tr. Kennelly (2008), "Nothing"]

Swifty, you moan that I write long epigrams. You aren't writing anything yourself; is that you making shorter ones?
[tr. Nisbet (2015)]

My epigrams are word, you've complained;
But you write nothing. Yours are more restrained.
[tr. O'Connell]

“Much too long” you say, Velox, censorious,
Of my epigrams -- that’s quite uproarious.
You write none. Your brevity is glorious.
[tr. Schmidgall (2001)]

You call my epigrams verbose and lacking in concision
while you yourself write nothing. Wise decision.
[tr. Clark, "Short Enough?"]

Added on 11-Mar-22 | Last updated 11-Mar-22
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Aristotle says that on the banks of the River Hypanis, which falls into the Euxine from a part of Europe, there is an order of beasties (creatures, insects, bestiolæ), which live one day. Of these, therefore, any that dies at the eight hour has died at an advanced age, but any that dies at sunset, in positive senility, especially if it be the solstice. Compare, now, our longest life with eternity, and we shall be found to be in much the same category as these ephemerals.

[Apud Hypanim fluvium, qui ab Europae parte in Pontum influit, Aristoteles ait bestiolas quasdam nasci, quae unum diem vivant. Ex his igitur hora VIII quae mortua est, provecta aetate mortua est; quae vero occidente sole, decrepita, eo magis, si etiam solstitiali die. Confer nostram longissimam aetatem cum aeternitate: in eadem propemodum brevitate qua illae bestiolae reperiemur.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
Tusculan Disputations [Tusculanae Disputationes], Book 1, ch. 39 (1.39) / sec. 94 (45 BC) [tr. Black (1889)]
    (Source)

The reference is to Aristotle, History of Animals, 5.19 (552b.18). (Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

By the mouth of the Hypanis, which on the side of Europe, falleth into the Black Sea; Aristotle reports certain Insects to be bred, that live but one day. Such therefore, of these, as dye at two in the Afternoon, dye elderly; but such, as at Sunset, very aged; and the more, if it be on the longest day in Summer. Compare our life, at longest, with Eternity; we shall be found, in a manner, as short-liv'd as are these Insects.
[tr. Wase (1643)]

Aristotle saith, there is a kind of insect, near the river Hypanis;, which runs from a certain part of Europe, into the Pontus, whose life consists but of one day; those that die at the eighth hour, die in full age; those who die when the sun sets, very old, especially when the days are at the longest. Compare our l9ongest age with eternity, and we shall be found as short-lived as those little animals.
[tr. Main (1824)]

At the river Hypanis, which flows into the Euxine, from a part of Europe, certain little insects, Aristotle says, are born to live but a day. Then, one of these, that dies at two afternoon, dies well-advanced in life; but he that dies at sunset, especially about the summer solstice, decrepit. Compare our longest age with eternity; we shall be found in much the same brevity with these little insects.
[tr. Otis (1839)]

On the River Hypanis, which flows from some part of Europe into the Euxine Sea, Aristotle says that there is a certain species of insects that live only a day. One of them that died at the eighth hour of the day would have died at an advanced age; one of them that died at sunset, especially at the summer solstice, would have been decrepit. If we compare our life with eternity, we shall find ourselves of almost as brief a being as those insects.
[tr. Peabody (1886)]

By the river Hypanis which flows into the Black Sea on the European side, Aristotle says some tiny creatures are born which live for one day. So of these one which has died in the eight hour has died at an advanced age; one which has died at sunset is senile, all the more if it dies at the summer solstice. Compare the longest human life with eternity; we shall turn out to be almost as short-lived as these tiny creatures.
[tr. Douglas (1985)]

Aristotle reports that along the river Hypanis, which flows into Pontus from Europe, tiny creatures are born that live but a single day. If they die at the eighth hour they're of an advanced age, if at sunset, they're decrepit -- even more so on the solstice. Measure the longest human lifespan against eternity: you'll find we live about as briefly as those little creatures do.
[tr. Habinek (1996)]

On the river Hypanis which flows from part of Europe into the Black Sea, Aristotle says that little creates are born which live for a single day. One of them, therefore, that has died at the eighth hour of the day has died at an advanced age; one that has died at sunset is senile, and all the more so if this occurs at the summer solstice. Compare our longest lifetime with eternity: we shall be found to be virtually as short-lived as those little creatures.
[tr. Davie (2017)]

Aristotle says that certain little beasts which live for only one day are born near the Hypanis, which flows from part of Europe into the Black Sea. One of these who dies at sunrise dies as a youth; one who dies at noon has already achieved an advanced age; but one who departs at the setting of the sun dies old, especially if it is the solstice. Compare the entirety of our life with eternity, and we will be found to exist for just as short a time as that animal.
[tr. @sentantiq (2019), quoting from Petrarch, Secretum 3.17]

Added on 9-Dec-21 | Last updated 11-Aug-22
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Broadly speaking, short words are best, and the old words, when short, are the best of all.

Winston Churchill (1874-1965) British statesman and author
The Times Literary Award luncheon, London (2 Nov 1949)
    (Source)
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Words are like Leaves; and where they most abound,
Much Fruit of Sense beneath is rarely found.

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) English poet
“An Essay on Criticism” (1711)
    (Source)
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Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity, or registering wrongs.

Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) British novelist [pseud. Currer Bell]
Jane Eyre, ch. 6 [Helen Burns] (1847)
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A sacrifice, if we may say so, to the god Brevity, whom all historians, indeed, all who work with the written word, ought to worship.

Steven Brust (b. 1955) American writer, systems programmer
The Phoenix Guards (1991)
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Brevity is the soul of lingerie.

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) American writer
Caption, Vogue (1916)

Quoted and attributed in Alexander Woollcott, While Rome Burns (1934). Modeled after Shakespeare. The full caption, from a page of women's underwear: "From these foundations of the autumn wardrobe, one may learn that brevity is the soul of lingerie, as the Petticoat said to the Chemise."
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Brevity is the soul of wit.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Hamlet, Act 2, sc. 2, l. 97ff [Polonius] (c. 1600)
    (Source)

In full:
"Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief ...."
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Whatever advice you give, be short.

Horace (65-8 BC) Roman poet and satirist [Quintus Horacius Flaccus]
Ars Poetica (c. 18 BC)
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The more you say, the less people remember.
The fewer the words, the greater the profit.

Francis de Sales - more you say - wist_info quote

François de Sales (1567-1622) French bishop, saint, writer [a.k.a. Francis de Sales, b. François de Boisy]
(Attributed)

In S.A. Bent, comp., Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men (1887). Usually attributed, due to structure of that reference, to Francois Fénelon.
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If you have anything to tell me of importance, for God’s sake begin at the end.

Sara Jeannette Duncan (1861-1922) Canadian author and journalist
The Imperialist (1904)
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Brevity is the best recommendation of speech, whether in a senator or an orator.

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
(Attributed)
    (Source)

In Tryon Edwards, A Dictionary of Thoughts (1891).
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Brevity is the sister of talent.

Chekhov - brevity sister of talent - wist_info quote

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (1860-1904) Russian playwright and writer
Letter to Alexander Chekhov (11 Apr 1889)
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The more an idea is developed, the more concise becomes its expression; the more a tree is pruned, the better is the fruit.

Bougeard - better is the fruit - wist_info quote

No picture available
Alfred Bougeard (1815-1882) French writer
(Attributed)

In J. De Finod (ed., tr.) A Thousand Flashes of French Wit, Wisdom, and Wickedness (1881).
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There’s a great power in words, if you don’t hitch too many of them together.

Josh Billings (1818-1885) American humorist [pseud. of Henry Wheeler Shaw]
(Attributed)

Quoted in Donald Day, Uncle Sam's Uncle Josh (1972 ed., 1st pub. 1953).
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Be brief, for no discourse can please when too long.

Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) Spanish novelist
Don Quixote, Part 1, Book 3, ch. 7 (1605)
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I don’t care how much a man talks, if he only says it in a few words.

Josh Billings (1818-1885) American humorist [pseud. of Henry Wheeler Shaw]
Josh Billings: His Sayings, “Affurisms” (1865)
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You may get a large amount of truth into a brief space.

Beecher - into a brief space - wist_info quote

Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) American clergyman and orator
(Attributed)
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There was a pause — just long enough for an angel to pass, flying slowly.

Ronald Firbank (1886-1926) British novelist and playwright
Vainglory (1915)
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Mostly, when I think of pacing, I go back to Elmore Leonard, who explained it so perfectly by saying he just left out the boring parts. This suggests cutting to speed the pace, and that’s what most of us end up having to do (kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings).

Stephen King (b. 1947) American author
On Writing, ch. 12 (2000)
    (Source)

See Leonard and Quiller-Couch.
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Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.

Elmore Leonard (1925-2013) American novelist and screenwriter
In “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction,” The Guardian (20 Feb 2010)
    (Source)

A frequent piece of advice from Leonard, e.g.:
  • "I leave out the parts that people skip." When asked about the popularity of his detective novels. Quoted in William Zinsser, A Family of Readers (1986)
  • "Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip." In "Making It Up as I Go Along," AARP Magazine (Jul/Aug 2009).
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How long is life to the wretched, how short for the happy!

Publilius Syrus (d. 42 BC) Assyrian slave, writer, philosopher [less correctly Publius Syrus]
Sententiae [Moral Sayings], # 621 [tr. Lyman (1862)]
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Struggling to be brief
I become obscure.

[Brevis esse laboro,
obscurus fio.]

Horace (65-8 BC) Roman poet and satirist [Quintus Horacius Flaccus]
Ars Poetica, l. 25 (c. 18 BC)

Alt. trans.: "Aiming at brevity, I become obscure."
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Think not thy time short in this World since the World itself is not long. The created World is but a small Parenthesis in Eternity, and a short interposition for a time between such a state of duration, as was before it and may be after it.

Thomas Browne (1605-1682) English physician and author
Christian Morals, Part 3, sec. 24 (1716)
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My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night:
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends —
It gives a lovely light!

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) American poet
“Figs from Thistles: First Fig” in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse (Jun 1918)
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