William Michael Cavanagh, professor emeritus of English, died on Aug. 26, 2017, at the age of 74.
Mike taught English at Grinnell College from 1971 to 2005. He taught the works of Milton, James Joyce, Elizabeth Bishop, W.B. Yeats, Philip Larkin, Seamus Heaney, W.H. Auden, and many more. He loved introducing students to poetry. Thinking that Grinnell needed a poetry writing course, he invented one in the 1970s and taught it until the mid-1990s.
He was also the first professor to teach Joyce’s Ulysses, long regarded as too difficult for undergraduates. He taught Ulysses twice in Dublin, making his students walk almost every inch of the Dublin that Joyce recorded and evoked in his novel. In 2003 he was named the Orville and Mary Patterson Routt Professor of Literature.
Mike’s doctoral dissertation was about Archibald MacLeish’s poem “Conquistador” as an allegory of Roosevelt’s New Deal. He later published articles on MacLeish, Seamus Heaney, Dante, Milton, John Crowe Ransom, and W.B. Yeats. In 2009, he published a book about Seamus Heaney, Professing Poetry, and finished a book on Milton in 2016.
In addition to scholarship, Mike devoted the last decades of his career to writing and publishing poetry. He had poems published in journals that included The Sewanee Review, The South Carolina Review, the Free State Review, Aurorean, Rattle, Eclipse, the Heartland Review, The South Dakota Review, and Lyrical Iowa, among others. He spent almost two decades teaching himself Dante’s Commedia in Italian. Much of his poetry strives after Dante’s simple style and manner.
For many years Mike managed the Grinnell College Public Events Committee. He brought many renowned performers to Grinnell and enjoyed entertaining them.
Mike is survived by his wife Lenore Marie “Lynn” Cavanagh; his sister, Patty Dobbs, of Newton, Iowa; and by his sons Sean and Peter, their wives, and four grandchildren.