Three Translations of Asmaa Azaizeh’s ‘Dragonflies’

These three translations of Asmaa Azaizeh’s “Dragonflies” appeared in the first issue of ArabLit Quarterly, which came out in the fall of 2018. We re-run it here in celebration of Women in Translation Month.

Dragonfly, plate 1 from Le Fleuve (1874) print in high resolution by Édouard Manet. Original from The Art Institute of Chicago. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel.


By Asmaa Azaizeh

Translated to English by Yasmine Seale

Millions of years ago, there were no winged creatures.

We all crawled around on our bellies and paws

to arrive.

We arrived nowhere in particular,

but the rough ground coarsened our bellies

and our paws stretched out like mountains.

Every time we stopped in the shade of a tree,

one of us would shout: “Here we are!”

A fantasy mightier than mountains.

Millions of years ago, dragonflies emerged from narrow streams.

The water was heavy on their backs, 

like a tightening in the chest,

so they asked creation for wings, 

that they might perceive anguish 

as clearly as stones on the riverbed.

Since then, we all fly,

millions of wings and planes cloud the sky,

humming like hungry locusts.

But not one of us has asked creation

to deliver us from the fantasy of arrival. 

In our chests, the same tightening.



By Asmaa Azaizeh

Translated to Dutch by Nisrine Mbarki

Miljoenen jaren geleden waren er geen gevleugelde wezens

Wij kropen allemaal op onze buiken en poten tot we aankwamen

We zijn nergens in het bijzonder aangekomen maar onze buiken schraapten over de harde grond. Onze poten gingen door alsof ze moedige bergen waren. Telkens als we in de schaduw van een boom stopten riep een van ons: we zijn er! 

Het was een illusie hoger dan de bergen 

Miljoenen jaren geleden kwamen de libellen uit trage smalle rivieren

het water was te zwaar op hun ruggen als een samentrekking in het hart, ze vroegen het universum om twee vleugels om de pijn helder te kunnen zien als gruis op een bodem

Sindsdien vliegen wij, allemaal

Miljoenen vleugels en vliegtuigen bedekken de hemel en zoemen als hongerige sprinkhanen

Niemand heeft het universum gevraagd ons te bevrijden van de illusie van het aankomen

Onze harten trekken nog steeds samen.



By Asmaa Azaizeh

Translated to French by Maïté Graisse

Il y a des millions d’années, il n’existait pas d’êtres ailés

Tous, nous avancions sur le ventre et sur les pattes pour arriver

Nous ne sommes pas arrivés à un endroit en particulier. 

Mais nos ventres ont commencé à se solidifier à cause des aspérités. 

Nos pattes se sont allongées comme des montagnes colossales. 

Chaque fois que l’on s’arrêtait à l’ombre d’un arbre, 

l’un d’entre nous criait : « Nous sommes arrivés ! » 

Illusion plus haute que les montagnes

Il y a des millions d’années, des libellules sont sorties de petits ruisseaux. 

L’eau pesait sur leur dos, 

comme une contraction dans le cœur ; 

elles ont demandé à l’univers deux ailes 

pour distinguer la douleur 

aussi clairement que le gravier du lit de la rivière

Depuis lors, nous volons, tous

Des millions d’ailes et d’avions voilent le ciel, 

bourdonnent comme des criquets affamés

Mais personne n’a demandé à l’univers 

notre délivrance de l’illusion de l’arrivée

Dans nos cœurs, la même contraction


Also read:

‘The Dance of the Soma’ and Being a Stranger

Yasmine Seale’s thread of Asmaa Azaizeh translations


Asmaa Azaizeh is a poet, performer, and journalist based in Haifa. She was born in 1985 in the village of Daburieh, in the Lower Galilee, Palestine. In 2010 Asmaa received the Debutant Writer Award from Al Qattan Foundation, for her volume of poetry, Liwa, published in 2011 with Dar Al Ahliya, Jordan. Asmaa has published four poetry collections. Don’t Believe Me If I Talked To You Of War was published in 2019 in Arabic, Dutch, and Swedish. Her poetry has been translated to English, German, Spanish, Farsi, Swedish, Italian, Greek and Hebrew, among others. Asmaa became the first Director of the Mahmoud Darwish Museum in Ramallah in 2012. For several years, Asmaa worked as a journalist for Palestinian and Arabic newspapers, as well as a presenter for Television and Radio. 

Yasmine Seale is a writer and translator living in Paris. Her reviews and essays on literature, art, myth, archaeology and film have appeared widely, including in Harper’s, The Paris Review, The Nation, frieze, The TLS, Apollo, 4Columns, and the London Review of Books blog. Her poetry, visual art, and translations from Arabic and French have appeared in Poetry Review, Literary Hub, Asymptote, Rialto, Seedings, Partisan Hotel, Wasafiri, Two Lines, and anthologies with Comma and Saqi presses. She is the author, with Robin Moger, of Agitated Air: Poems after Ibn Arabi, out now with Tenement Press. Other work includes Aladdin: A New Translation (2018) and The Annotated Arabian Nights (2021), both out with W. W. Norton. She is the recipient of the 2020 Wasafiri New Writing Prize for Poetry and of a 2022 PEN/HEIM Translation Fund Grant. In 2022-23 she will be a fellow at the Institute for Ideas and Imagination, based in Paris.

Nisrine Mbarki is a writer, poet, columnist and literary translator. She is also an editor and programmer for the Winternachten Festival. She writes short stories, theatre scripts and poetry, and translates poetry from Arabic into Dutch. Her poems and columns are regularly published in Dutch literary magazines. She has appeared at festivals such as Poetry International, Globale in Bremen, Winternachten, Read My World, the Felix Poetry Festival in Antwerp and the Nacht van de Poëzie (Night of Poetry). She is co-founder and artistic director of the theatre company Landgenoten, for which she wrote Club Paradis(2016), which was staged in the Netherlands and Germany. Her debut poetry collection Oeverloos (Endless) was published in January 2022.

Maïté Graisse was born in Bolivia in 1990 and grew up in the Belgian Ardennes. Her passion for languages and books pushed her toward translation. After a year spent in Cairo, she studied Arabic and English at ISTI. She is a freelance translator who works for several cultural, artistic and literary centers and festivals, having translated work by Ali Bader and Mahmoud Darwish, among others.