Introduction. This epitaph commemorates the death of Jane Paulet, the Marchioness (the wife of the Marquis) of Winchester. She died on April 15, 1631 giving birth to a son, who also perished. She was twenty-three years old. At the time of her death, Milton was twenty-two and a student at Cambridge. This poem was written some time shortly after Jane Paulet's death, and first published in 1645. The copytext is from the 1645 Poems. "An Epitaph on the Marchioness of Winchester" is composed of rhyming couplets of iambic tetrameter. This rhythm and meter owes much to Ben Jonson. For an example of this, see a sampling of Ben Jonson's poetry, especially "Epitaph on Elizabeth, L.H." which evokes a sentiment very similar to Milton's here. Another well known Elizabethan epitaph is Claudio's epitaph on Hero in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing 5.3.3-20. Although Claudio's motives to lament differ from Milton's, both share the same rhythm and meter.

enterr. Inter. To deposit (a corpse) in the earth, or in a grave or tomb; to inhume, bury. See OED2 citing this instance.

told. Counted. In other words, the Marchioness died at age 23.

meet. Fitting, proper.

Virgin quire. A choir of bridesmaids.

God. Hymen, the God of marriage. In Ovid's Metamorphoses 10.1-17, Hymen makes an appearance at the wedding of Orpheus and Eurydice, but he is unable to prevent the untimely death of Eurydice that occurs shortly after. Milton also makes reference to Hymen in L'Allegro 124-127.

scarce-wel-lighted flame. We are asked to imagine that Hymen's attendance at this particular marriage is less than usually beneficent; his flame or wedding torch is a bit off and his garland contains a less than promising cypress bud.

Cipress bud. Elizabethan tree of mourning. See also Virgil's Aenied 6.731-32.

Lucina. Roman goddess of childbirth. In Ovid's Metamorphoses 9.285-322, she prevents Alcmena from giving birth to Hercules.

throws. Birth labors.

Atropos. The third Fate, she cuts the thread of human lives. See Plato's Republic 617c and 620e. Milton also refers to Atropos in Lycidas 75-76 and Arcades 63-69.

slip. A cutting from a plant.

sease. Seize.

Helicon. A mountain sacred to the Muses.

Hears. Hearse.

Came.A personification of the river Cam. See also the personification of Camus in Lycidas 103-106.

Syrian Shepherdess. Rachel, the wife of Jacob, mother of Joseph, died giving birth to Benjamin in Genesis 35: 17-19.

Lines 61-70. Milton compares and links two women who died giving birth, Rachel and the Marchioness and, as J. Holly Hanford argues, Milton places them in the third rank of the Celestial Rose, much as Rachel and Beatrice in Dante's Paradiso 32.7-10.