PERSONAL AND PUBLIC
WHEN I said that Donne in the sonnet under review was apparently more interested in the condition of his own soul than in the character of his wife, any suggestion of surprise that may have been insinuated had nothing to do with this interest in itself. In examining the condition of his soul Donne was fulfilling the age-long Christian injunction of knowing yourself, of turning the eye inward from the outer world to the fallen self. He was carrying out the injunctions of St. Augustine Soliloquies and St. Bernard Meditations and he was doing, after the fashion of his own religious tradition, what some of his contemporary Calvinists were doing in theirs. The surprise consists in Donne's using a sonnet to his dead wife for such a purpose. There is in fact something extreme about Donne: he was apt to exploit a single element at the expense of others; where Milton was less specialised, open to more of the general motions of thought belonging to his age.
I may have sounded unfair in noting a lack of social sense in Donne's sonnet; the sonnet not being a form in which you would expect to find it. But even if I did I was pointing to something generally lacking in him. In his poetry he shows little trace of that sense of public or social obligation which, largely inherited from Greece and Rome in the sixteenth century, was destined