The Victory


by Anne Stevenson
" I thought you were my victory /though you cut me like a
knife" (Stevenson 1-2)
The opening lines of Anne Stevenson's poem " The Victory"
set a tone of conflict. This poem, at its surface,
expresses a mother's thoughts on giving birth to a son.
Stevenson describes the mixed feelings many mothers have
upon the delivery of their first born. The final release
from pregnancy and birthing pains, coupled with the
excitement of bringing a live creature into this world, at
first seem a victory to the new parent. The author goes on
to confute the event as a victory. Using words such as
"antagonist" (5), "bruise" (6), and "scary"(13), she shows
the darker side of childbirth. The mother has felt her own
life's blood flowing that a stranger might live "The stains
of your glory bled from my veins." (6-8). That she sees her
own child as a stranger is evident in lines nine and ten,
where the child is described as a "blind thing" (9) with
"blank insect eyes"(10). The mother portrays her baby as a
bug, not even human. In the last section of the poem, two
questions are asked, attesting to the mother's internal
conflict. "Why do I have to love you?/ How have you won?"
(15-16). These unanswerable queries are some of the
fundamental questions of our human existence.
Below the topmost layer of meaning in " The Victory", is an
underlying theme that any parent or guardian will
understand. Children are born out of the great pain their
mothers endure. They are helpless in one sense, yet they
command the care of their parents. Stevenson describes the
intrinsic helplessness of infants with the words "Blind"(9)
and "Hungry"(14). Yet, this poem does not refer to new born
babes alone. Birthing pains do not cease with the delivery
of a child. The conflict described in this poem is felt by
parents of adult children as well. All parents give of
their lifeblood, at least in the emotional sense, in
raising and maintaining their offspring. " The Victory" is
a poem written as if by a mother only just delivered of a
new born son, yet the themes expressed in its lines apply
to all the stages of human life. Stevenson seems to stress
the pain that is felt when one life brings forth another,
but there are many pains felt by parents in ways
unphysical. "You barb the air. /You sting with bladed
cries" (11-12) these are sharp words that bring thoughts of
tangible pain. These words also describe mental and
emotional pain that is felt by many parents who sacrifice
much for their children. The poem does not place a guilt on
the baby nor, therefore on children in general. It seems to
acknowledges the turmoil of birth and life as natural. The
child who is born today, collects the sacrifice of its
parents and will make sacrifices for the child born
tomorrow. Even though " The Victory" is worded to sound
resentful, as though the mother begrudges her child his new
found life, it also has a resigned tone. The mother accepts
her lot, however painful.
Even deeper into this poem is the hint of feminism. The
author chose the sex of this baby intentionally. She used
two references to a knife, indicating pain inflicted in a
manner unnatural. The knife has traditionally been a man's
weapon. "Tiny antagonist" (9) could refer to the entire
male gender. "Scary knot of desires" (13) is a reference to
the sex act, which is sometimes seen as male aggression.
The child is the manifestation of this act. "Hungry snarl!
Small son." (14) the use of an animalistic noise directly
precedes the revelation of the baby's gender. Once again
Stevenson's choice of words reminds one of male aggression.
The woman in the poem seems to feel cheated in bearing a
male child to the man who is indirectly responsible for her
condition. Why does she have to love him? Does that sum up
the plight of woman? Is it Eve's curse that woman shall
embrace man, though in so doing she must suffer childbirth
to bring forth more men? (Or daughters who shall suffer
likewise.) Is that how he has won? The Victory asks us
these questions. They cannot be answered.


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