Who is the section labeled Epitaph, at the end of "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard", about? Is it the potential epitaph or actual epitaph of the speaker?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator
This narrator's epitaph, or inscription on a gravestone, is potential, not actual. The speaker is still alive. He writes what he wishes to be carved on his tombstone later, after he dies.
The poem itself focuses on the quiet, humble people of the earth, who live and die unknown. The narrator has been wandering about their graves in a country churchyard and later writes the poem to ruminate on these people and celebrate their unsung lives.
In this way, he is anticipating the Romantic moment, which elevated the importance of the common person. He is writing sentimental verse and writing against the Augustan trend of celebrating heroes and important people. In a richly melancholic vein, he ponders those economically poorer people who live good lives and make a contribution to the earth. He writes, for example:
Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile,
The short and simple annals of the poor
What he is saying above is that we should not mock and disdain (that is, make fun of and look down on) the contributions and simple joys of the ordinary folk. They lived worthy lives.
In his epitaph, which I have copied below, the speaker likens himself to these simple people and wishes to be remembered for the same reasons. They have caused him to reflect on his own life and on what is most important. He notes he is of humble birth too, and he wants to be recalled for his simple virtue, for who he was as a person, not what he was in the eyes of the world.
He describes himself as obscure. He has obtained knowledge (science) and has a sensitive (melancholy) spirit that feels the plight of the poor. He hopes to be remembered not for his accomplishments but for being sincere, being a friend, and caring about the miseries of others. He ends by saying he doesn't want his faults disclosed but puts his faith in God, hoping to be accepted into heaven (the bosom of God). His epitaph can be understood as a gentle rebuke to all those who pant after fame and fortune:
Here rests his head upon the lap of earth
A youth to fortune and to fame unknown.
Fair Science frowned not on his humble birth,
And Melancholy marked him for her own.

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
Heaven did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Misery all he had, a tear,
He gained from Heaven ('twas all he wished) a friend.

No farther seek his merits to disclose,
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,
(There they alike in trembling hope repose)
The bosom of his Father and his God.
mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The last stanzas of the poem are the epitaph that the speaker himself imagines on his very own tombstone (not a literal epitaph, just one he places there for the poem's purposes).  He is a sensitive soul who spends much of the poem wondering about the merit of life, the meaning of death, and the joys of living that we will no longer enjoy after passing away.

At the end of the poem, after pondering life, death, poverty and happiness, he imagines "some hoary-headed Swain" (a common farmer) noticing that the speaker is not in his usual place in the graveyard.  He'll notice people "with dirges due in sad array" (mourning clothes) bearing the speaker's coffin.  The farmer will approach the tombstone, and since he can't read, the speaker reads the epitaph for him.  And that is what the last 2 stanzas are, an epitaph for his own tomb.  On it, he implores the reader to not dwell on his faults, not to "draw his frailties from their dread abode," and to wish him well, as "a Friend."

I hope that helps a bit!  I provided a link to a summary for the the poem below, and that should help also.

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