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Steinberg shines light on duality in ‘Mourning’

By Ivy Hollander

Although the weather was gloomy, the mood at Assistant professor of English Diane Steinberg’s Close Reading about heavenly, lasting love was to the contrary. During the Close Reading, which was hosted in the Business Building Lounge on Oct. 15, Steinberg not only read and analyzed John Donne’s “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning,” but also detailed the connections between Donne’s elegant, precise poetry and Galileo Galilei’s enlightened scientific theories.

Before Steinberg began her reading, Professor David Blake introduced his colleague and made note of Steinberg’s modesty and thoughtful work ethic — even mentioning the worksheet that she prepared for the audience.

After the introduction, Steinberg provided background information on the poem, saying that Donne built his poem around the duality of heaven and Earth, the pure and the impure, and the soul and the body.

After detailing some of the poem’s context, Steinberg began to read in a clear, melodious voice, making sure to stop after every sentence of the poem in order to clarify and explain.

Freshman English elementary education major Kandace Pollison said of Steinberg’s reading, “She did such a good job of analyzing the poem that I was able to understand it in a new light. Her analysis on the compass metaphor was particularly interesting.”

Steinberg said the compass metaphor furthers Donne’s heaven versus Earth duality of love. Like the rotating pencil and the permanent needle of the compass, the heavenly speaker and his earth-bound beloved “can be together yet separate, separate on Earth, but together in the heavens.”

According to Steinberg, by using the compass as a metaphor, Donne connected Galileo’s revolutionary ideas concerning heavenly bodies and the Earth to his poetry. Using “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning” as a vehicle, Donne confirmed that there is not such a disparity between the Earth and the heavens — the Earth is “not the sink of all dull refuse of the universe.”

While Steinberg spoke of Donne and Galileo as renaissance men, she too came across as a “renaissance woman” with her knowledge of both poetry and the celestial world. By the end of the reading, the audience was well-acquainted with Donne’s “technical fireworks,” as Blake eloquently summarized — capturing the powerful words of Donne as well as the audience’s enthusiasm for Steinberg’s reading.

“I liked how Steinberg did not just talk about what was written,” said freshman secondary English education major Michael Santoro, “but was also able to integrate other disciplines and issues of the time period.”


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