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In the poem Pi, by Wislawa Szymborska, there is this line:

in which we find how blithe the trostle sings!

A Google search for trostle turns up a few hits, mostly as people's last names. Urban Dictionary [nsfw] has two definitions, both of which were voted down. And Webster's Online Dictionary says it's a misspelling of throstle.

I understand that poets are licensed to make up words, but this poem is otherwise very plain. In fact, this whole line seems out of place.

Can anyone explain the author's meaning?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Blithe = cheerful, carefree; and trostle = misspelling of throstle = a type of thrush = a songbird. So, given just this line, I think it's meant to be interpreted pretty literally:

in which we find [out] how blithe[ly] the [thrush] sings!

Edit: Found a different translation which clearly uses "bird" to translate the Polish word:

[...] a charade, a code,
in which we find "hail to thee, blithe spirit, bird thou never wert"1
alongside "ladies and gentlemen, no cause for alarm"

1 This is a quotation from Shelley's Ode to a Skylark. I don't know if this reference exists in the original poem, or whether it's something added by the translator, but in any case, it's clear that this part of the poem has something about a bird.

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Uh, what's with the anonymous downvote? If you think my answer is wrong, please tell me, so I can improve it! –  Marthaª Dec 3 '10 at 15:19
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That translation includes a direct quotation from Shelley's Ode to a Skylark: "Hail to thee, blithe spirit / Bird thou never wert". Whether there is a reference to that in the Polish, or whether it is the translator's fancy, I cannot tell. –  Colin Fine Dec 3 '10 at 16:07
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@Colin Fine: ah, that actually helps greatly to make sense of that line: ... a code in which we find "hail to thee, blithe spirit / Bird thou never wert" alongside "ladies and gentlemen, no cause for alarm"... –  Marthaª Dec 3 '10 at 16:41
    
Somehow, when I followed the link to "throstle" from the definition of "trostle," I only read the first definition -- a spinning machine -- and didn't read on to the second definition -- a song thrush. That plus Colin Fine's elaboration explained not only the odd word but the whole line (even the whole poem) to me. Many, many thanks to you both! –  Doug Dec 6 '10 at 20:49
    
@ColinFine The Polish does not refer to Shelley, but instead to a Polish poet who wrote a poem about a joyous bird. See my answer for details. –  Mark Beadles Sep 15 '12 at 1:42

A native or expert Polish speaker is clearly what we need here! I’m not one, but my best attempt: the original has

w którym słowiczku mój a leć

and the word corresponding to trostle seems to be słowiczku, a diminutive form of słowik, which online dictionaries tell me is nightingale. The nightingale is a species of thrush (roughly — there are some ornithological hairs that could be split here).

Diminutives in Polish (and other Slavic languages) are notoriously hard to translate. They sometimes just indicate familiarity or smallness; sometimes, they have more specific connotations, or may carry echoes of particular well-known poems or fairy-tales; a few have even evolved specific meanings, more distinct from the base words.

I don’t know which of these słowiczka is — whether it sounds old-fashioned to a Polish ear, or playful, or whether it’s even a reference to some other species similar to the nightingale. (Actually I guess not this latter, since it doesn’t appear on Polish Wikipedia.) But it’s certainly some kind of nightingale, thrush or similar bird, and it’s certainly a moderately unusual word for it (słowiczka gets about 9,000 google hits), so throstle seems like a reasonable translation, and trostle a misspelling or variant spelling of that.

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Wikipedia says a throstle is a song thrush. I thoroughly approve of the fact that you worked from the original Polish. –  Jon Purdy Dec 3 '10 at 20:17
    
@Jon: Yes, the issues of which species of thrush/nightingale are in question, and whether “thrush”/“throstle” refer to a species, a genus, or a family, were the ornithological hairs I was avoiding splitting :-) If I understand right, though, usage of bird names has varied a lot in the past, by era and region, so with archaic terms it’s hard to say for certain what they mean in modern terms. –  PLL Dec 4 '10 at 18:44
    
Great info. I didn't realize that the original was in Polish. I imagine translating poetry is the hardest job for a translator! –  Doug Dec 6 '10 at 20:45
    
+1 for the unexpectedly nice approach to analysis :) –  Kris Sep 29 '12 at 12:30

Though translation is out of scope, I thought that I as a Polish speaker might help. Marthaª and PLL are both correct as far as they go.

The original poem by Szymborska has (including the lines immediately preceding and following):

obwód w biodrach dwa palce szarada i szyfr,
w którym słowiczku mój a leć, a piej
oraz uprasza się zachować spokój,

Literally translated, this would be

hip measurement two fingers charade and cipher,
in which my dear-little-nightingale fly and sing
and are advised to remain peaceful

(Where "dear-little-nightingale" represents my crude attempt at the Polish słowiczku, a diminutive of słowik, nightingale.)

A person well-read in Polish would know immediately that this a direct quotation from the poem "Do Bohdana Zaleskiego" by Adam Mickiewicz, Poland's greatest poet. It was written in 1841 and uses rather old-fashioned but evocative language.

Słowiczku mój! a leć! a piej!
Na pożegnanie piej
Wylanym łzom, spełnionym snom,
Skończonej piosnce twej!

or

My dear nightingale! Fly! Sing!
In farewell sing
Outpoured tears, fulfilled dreams,
Your finished song!

I do not know the exact intent of the poet, but it was written during the Great Polish Emigration to the west of Europe, a time of tremendous artistic and cultural growth for Poles (think Chopin and Curie) despite their lack of an independent nation. Therefore, its import is somewhat 'patriotic', though in a uniquely Polish sense. The phrase is therefore a classic line by a very famous poet about a joyous bird. The translation mentioned in Marthaª's answer used an equivalent classic English poetic line by Shelley and really did a good job in my opinion.

(The next line is also a bit of a quotation, but for the common phrase "Please remain calm".)

Regarding "blithe" and "trostle":

I can only suspect that the translator who used "trostle" was looking for an antique-feeling equivalent to "nightingale" since the Polish language of the original is similarly old-fashioned. He may have used "blithe" to evoke the Shelly quote. The original Polish does not specifically refer to "blithe", but the mood of the Polish poem is definitely joyous!

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So the translator has rendered a well-known line from a Polish poem by a well-known line from an English poem! That's class. –  Colin Fine Sep 15 '12 at 22:48
    
@ColinFine Not only that, but managed to keep the themes of Joy and Bird intact! –  Mark Beadles Sep 16 '12 at 1:55

One of the derivations for the name is the German word for the thrush, Drossel, a songbird. It is also pictured on an old family crest lending credibility to the derivation. This would also fit nicely with the quoted text above.

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U could be wrong, I suspect that in the poem the reference is made to the name -- Trostle. You're probably taken aback by the fact that it's written with the lower case t.

I also found via google that it's frequently used as a name

[n] Last name, frequency rank in the U.S. is 19387 .

Or my second theory as it's a misspelling of http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/throstle

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If it was meant to be interpreted as a name, (1) it should be capitalized, and (2) it shouldn't be preceded by an article. –  Marthaª Dec 3 '10 at 15:06
    
That's what I figured. Keep in mind , though, the poem was written a long time ago, by a foreign writer, and translated into English. The combination of the 3 distinctly exclusive elements might have contributed to this anomaly. Otherwise, I agree with you. –  Anderson Silva Dec 3 '10 at 15:12
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Wisława Szymborska is still alive. She won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996. –  Marthaª Dec 3 '10 at 15:34

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