The Random House Dictionary of The English Language defines the literary term "epitaph" as "a commemorative inscription on a tomb or mortuary monument. A brief poem or other writing in praise of a deceased person. Oftentimes, an epitaph describes the deceased in prose or verse, accounting for his/her nature as a person: the goodness, the accomplishments and the general way of their life." The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics suggests that an epitaph "may include the name of the person, his family, a prayer to the underworld, and a warning or imprecation against defilement" (377-378). Epitaphs also carry certain motifs such as "fortune and fate, the thread of life, and the removal from light" (377-378). Basically, an epitaph is a commemorative lamentation for the deceased. Examples range from the short and sometimes humorous to the formal and elegiac.

John Gay, "My Own Epitaph"

Life is a jest; and all things show it.
I thought so once; but now I know it.

Ben Jonson, "Epitaph on Elizabeth, L.H."

Wouldst thou what man can say
In a little? Reader, stay.
Underneath this stone doth lie
As much beauty as could die:
Which in life did harbor give
To more virtue than doth life.
If at all she had a fault,
Leave it buried in this vault.
One name was Elizabeth:
Th' other, let it sleep with death;
Fitter, where it died, to tell,
Than that it lived at all. Farewell.

George Peele, "A Farewell to Arms"

His golden locks time hath to silver turned.
Oh, time too swift, oh swiftness never ceasing:
His youth 'gainst time and age hath ever spurned,
But spurned in vain; youth waneth by increasing.
Beauty, strength, youth, are flowers but fading seen;
Duty, faith, love are roots, and ever green.

His helmet now shall make a hive for bees,
And lover's sonnets turned to holy psalms,
A man-at-arms must now serve on his knees,
And feed in prayers, which are age his alms;
But though from court to cottage he depart,
His saint is sure of his unspotted heart.

And when he saddest sits in homely cell,
He'll teach his swains this carol for a song;
Blest be the hearts that wish my sovereign well,
Cursed be the souls that think her any wrong;
Goddess, allow this aged man his right,
To be your beadsman now, that was your knight.

[Chase Horner]