The Unnamable Remains: Yasmine Seale translates Qasmuna bint Ismail

The Blood Moon from a 19th-century Thai manuscript, MS15760 at the British Library. Source:

It is said that Qasmuna’s father, Ismail, enjoyed improvising verse with her. One day he said: ‘Finish this poem’.

I had a friend whose rare delight,

Though it rewarded care with spite,

Itself exonerated.

Qasmuna thought for a moment and replied:

So the sun, to which for all its light

The moon is obliged, is still by it


One day she looked in the mirror, and considered that she was beautiful and had not married. She said:

There I see a garden ripe

For reaping, but not one

Palm spread for picking.

With what pains tender

Days are wasted. Only

The unnamable remains.

Her father heard this, and began to think of her marriage. On seeing a passing doe, she said:

Doe, forever grazing

On meadows, we are sisters

In wildness, in the contrast

Between eye-white and iris.

Alone, companionless,

We bear the fate

Set down for us.