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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 easily
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 a mother had just delivered 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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