This is the epigraph that Edgar Allan Poe chose for "The Murders in the Rue Morgue":
"What song the Syrens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women, although puzzling questions are not beyond all conjecture." -- Sir Thomas Browne, Urn-Burial
Formidable and fascinating in its own right, the sentence is perfectly apposite to the story it heads.
Poe's example makes me want to launch The Best American Poetry blog with a succinct ode to the art of the epigraph. It involves not only a cunning eye for a great and somewhat out-of-the-way quotation but also a determination to build on the quoted material -- to use it to quicken a new work into being.
T. S. Eliot was terrific at the game. Examples will follow. Meanwhile, I wonder whether others agree with my contention, and if so would they please indicate their own favorite epigraphs?
-- David Lehman