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 toneof conflict.
This poem, at its surface, expresses a mother’s thoughtson giving birth to a son. Stevenson describes the mixed feelings manymothers have upon the delivery of their first born. The final releasefrom pregnancy and birthing pains, coupled with the excitement ofbringing a live creature into this world, at first seem a victory tothe 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 ownlife’s blood flowing that a stranger might live “The stains of yourglory bled from my veins.” (6-8). That she sees her own child as astranger is evident in lines nine and ten, where the child isdescribed as a “blind thing” (9) with “blank insect eyes”(10). Themother portrays her baby as a bug, not even human. In the last sectionof the poem, two questions are asked, attesting to the mother’sinternal conflict. “Why do I have to love you?/ How have you won?”(15-16).
These unanswerable queries are some of the fundamentalquestions of our human existence. Below the topmost layer of meaning in The Victory, is anunderlying theme that any parent or guardian will easily relate to.Children are born out of the great pain their mothers endure.
They arehelpless in one sense, yet they command the care of their parents.Stevenson describes the intrinsic helplessness of infants with thewords “Blind”(9) and “Hungry”(14). Yet, this poem does not refer tonew born babes alone. Birthing pains do not cease with the delivery ofa child.
The conflict described in this poem is felt by parents ofadult children as well. All parents give of their lifeblood, at leastin the emotional sense, in raising and maintaining their offspring.The Victory is a poem written as if by a mother only just delivered ofa new born son, yet the themes expressed in its lines apply to all thestages of human life. Stevenson seems to stress the pain that is feltwhen one life brings forth another, but there are many pains felt byparents in ways unphysical. “You barb the air. /You sting with bladedcries” (11-12) these are sharp words that bring thoughts of tangiblepain.
These words also describe mental and emotional pain that isfelt by many parents who sacrifice much for their children. The poemdoes not place a guilt on the baby nor, therefore on children ingeneral. It seems to acknowledges the turmoil of birth and life asnatural.
The child who is born today, collects the sacrifice of itsparents and will make sacrifices for the child born tomorrow. Eventhough The Victory is worded to sound resentful, as though the motherbegrudges 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 authorchose the sex of this baby intentionally. She used two references to aknife, indicating pain inflicted in a manner unnatural. The knife hastraditionallybeen a man’s weapon.
“Tiny antagonist” (9) could refer tothe entire male gender. “Scary knot of desires” (13) is a reference tothe sex act, which is sometimes seen as male aggression. The child isthe manifestation of this act. “Hungry snarl! Small son.” (14) the useof an animalistic noise directly precedes the revelation of the baby’sgender.
Once again Stevenson’s choice of words reminds one of maleaggression. The woman in the poem seems to feel cheated in bearing amale 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 shemust suffer childbirth to bring forth more men? (Or daughters whoshall suffer likewise.) Is that how he has won? The Victory asks usthese questions. They cannot be answered.