Tod und Verklärung

Yesterday’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro takes a literary and anatomical turn:


(#1) literary: Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” / anatomical: the uvula, a tissue structure in the oral cavity (relevant here because of its involvement in snoring)

To make the allusions even denser, on his Facebook page, Wayno supplied the title “Mystery and Respiration” for #1, echoing the Paschal [that is, Easter] Mystery and Resurrection [of Jesus Christ], and alluding to the apparent resurrection of the body buried beneath the floorboards. And then this Death and Resurrection theme led me to Richard Strauss’s tone poem Tod und Verklärung, a secular (but still transcendent) story of death and transfiguration. Meanwhile, “Mystery and Respiration” also, of course, echoes the snoring theme.

The Poe story. From Wikipedia:

“The Tell-Tale Heart” is a short story by American writer Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1843. It is related by an unnamed narrator who endeavors to convince the reader of the narrator’s sanity while simultaneously describing a murder the narrator committed. The victim was an old man with a filmy “vulture-eye”, as the narrator calls it. The narrator emphasizes the careful calculation of the murder, attempting the perfect crime, complete with dismembering and hiding the body under the floorboards. Ultimately, the narrator’s feelings result in hearing a thumping sound, which the narrator interprets as the dead man’s beating heart.

Or in the Bizarro version, a snoring sound, which the narrator interprets as the dead man’s vibrating uvula.

The uvula. Thanks to its phonological similarity to vulva, this technical term of oral-cavity anatomy is pretty much guaranteed to elicit snickers in beginning linguistics and speech classes. Etymologically, they have nothing to do with one another.  The term uvula is metaphorical:  from Lat. ūvula ‘little grape’ (diminutive of ūva ‘grape’), depending on a similarity between the uvula and a cluster of grapes. The term vulva, on the other hand is metonymical: from Lat. vulva ‘womb’, but used for the external genitalia rather than the associated internal genitalia.

Now the details, from Wikipedia:


(#2) photo (from Wikipedia) locating the uvula

The palatine uvula [palatine, relating to the palate], usually referred to as simply the uvula , is a conic projection from the back edge of the middle of the soft palate, composed of connective tissue containing a number of racemose glands [racemose, in the shape of a cluster], and some muscular fibers. It also contains many serous glands [serous, producing serum], which produce thin saliva.

… During swallowing, the soft palate and the uvula move together to close off the nasopharynx, and prevent food from entering the nasal cavity.

It has also been proposed that the abundant amount of thin saliva produced by the uvula serves to keep the throat well lubricated.

It has a function in speech as well. In many languages, the uvula is used to articulate a range of consonant sounds, known as uvular consonants. The voiced uvular trill, written [ʀ] in the International Phonetic Alphabet, is one example; it is used in French, Arabic and Hebrew, among other languages.

… Stimulation of the uvula also causes the gag reflex to initiate.

… At times, the mucous membrane around the uvula may swell, causing the uvula to expand 3–5 times its normal size. This condition is known as uvulitis.

… The uvula can also contribute to snoring or heavy breathing during sleep; having an elongated uvula can cause vibrations that lead to snoring. In some cases this can lead to sleep apnea

The Richard Strauss tone poem. From Wikipedia:

Death and Transfiguration (Tod und Verklärung), Op. 24, is a tone poem for orchestra by Richard Strauss. Strauss began composition in the late summer of 1888 and completed the work on 18 November 1889. The work is dedicated to the composer’s friend Friedrich Rosch.

The music depicts the death of an artist. At Strauss’s request, this was described in a poem by the composer’s friend Alexander Ritter as an interpretation of Death and Transfiguration, after it was composed. As the man lies dying, thoughts of his life pass through his head: his childhood innocence, the struggles of his manhood, the attainment of his worldly goals; and at the end, he receives the longed-for transfiguration “from the infinite reaches of heaven”.

You can listen to a recording here (#3), by David Zinman and the Zürich Tonhalle Orchestra.

2 Responses to “Tod und Verklärung”

  1. John Baker Says:

    Nice, but I think “mystery and respiration” is more likely a reference to Tales of Mystery and Imagination, a frequent title for collections of Poe’s short stories, see Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_of_Mystery_%26_Imagination.

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