Recently I learned that one of my grad. school professors, George Kane, died on December 27; his funeral was held today in England. He was probably best-known as editor/co-editor (with E. Talbot Donaldson and George Russell) of William Langland’s monumental 14th c. allegorical poem of social and spiritual commentary, The Vision of Piers Plowman, as well as a great scholar of Middle English literature in general, including Chaucer. I had the privilege and challenge of taking three courses with him while I was working on my PhD—Middle English, Chaucer, and a seminar on Piers. He not only led us into deeper understanding and appreciation of the authors and literary texts we studied, but also insisted that we all learn to pronounce Middle English and read it aloud, as well as comprehend and analyze the material intelligently. Those who were in his classes during his last years of teaching still joke with a mix of pride and fear that we bear “the mark of Kane.” He did not suffer fools. “Look at the shape of the words!” was one of his admonitions.
The introduction to Medieval English Studies Presented to George Kane (the festschrift in honor of his retirement) notes:
George Kane fostered … enthusiasm [for medieval studies] both in and out of the classroom. Both as a teacher and as a senior colleague to junior faculty, he balanced frank advice and insistence on hard work with needed encouragement and support. Although busy with teaching, scholarship, and other departmental and university duties, he generously devoted a great deal of time to helping his students and colleagues. (xii-xiii)
He and his wife Bridget graciously held an annual “sherry” for the medieval studies graduate students, where we’d be sure a good meal, not just frou-frou finger food.
In a recent post on the transition from one year to the next, Tony Esolen, (who also studied under Professor Kane) points out that reflecting on our past and present is a constant of human nature:
It is natural even for pagan man not only to remember those whom he has loved, who have passed — like old King Scyld in his funeral boat at the beginning of Beowulf — into the great beyond, “no man knows where,” but to expect to be remembered in turn. We rebel against the notion that we should live our few years on earth and then be forgotten; it is an expectation founded in our own gratitude for those who came before us….
I’m sure that other students and former colleagues of Dr. Kane will have their own tributes, people who knew him better and who have achieved more than I. I know that I will be teaching Chaucer this coming semester with extra snap in grateful memory of Dr. Kane.