Anne Stevenson is trying to portray a mother's feelings of pain and anguish of giving birth to a child in the poem The Victory: "I thought you were my victory / though you cut me like a knife" (Lines 1-2). Although she must endure such pain, it is also exciting for the mother to bring new life into the world, which in fact feels like a "victory" to a new parent. However, throughout the poem, the speaker denies the fact that giving birth to a child is a victory, by using words such as "antagonist" (Line 5), "bruise" (Line 6) and "scary" (Line 13). By using these words, Stevenson is trying to portray the negative side of childbirth. This poem contains a tone of conflict and anger.
The mother feels her own blood running through the veins of the baby that lives within her: "The stains of your cloud of glory / bled from my veins" (Lines 6-8).
From lines 9-10 we can interpret that she sees her child as a stranger for the child is described as a "blind thing" (Line 9) with "blank insect eyes" (Line 10). This mother sees her child as more of an insect than a human being.
In the last stanza of the poem, two rhetorical questions are asked, showing the mother's true conflicts: "Why do I have to love you? / How have you won?" (Lines 15-16). These rhetorical questions are the basic questions of human existence.
The meaning of the "victory" is a basic theme that any parent can relate to. Through all the pain and agony that the mother has to suffer, a child is born. Babies require continual care from their parents for they are helpless on their own. Stevenson describes the basic helplessness of the babies with using the words such as "blind" (Line 9) and "hungry" (Line 14).
Stevenson throughout her poem emphasizes the pain that is felt when one brings a life into the world. "You barb the air. You sting / with bladed cries" (Lines 11-12). I feel that these words not only describe physical pain, but also portray mental and emotional pain that the parents must endure when they realize what they must sacrifice in order to raise a child. However, what comes around goes around. The children, who are born today, will make their parents sacrifice. However, they to will also sacrifice for their children.
The deeper I look into this poem, the more I find a hint of feminism. I feel that the author chooses the sex of this baby purposely. Stevenson uses two references to a knife. The knife had usually been a man's choice of weapon. "Tiny antagonist" (Line 9) could refer to the male gender. "Scary knot of desires" (Line 13) could be seen as a reference to sex, which is sometimes is seen as male aggression. The child is the consequence of this act.
"Hungry snarl! Small son" (Line 14), one can see the use of the animalistic sound directly shows the baby's gender. Once again, Stevenson's choice of words reminds one of male aggression. I feel that this mother in the poem seems to feel cheated in giving birth to a male child of the man who in some way responsible for her condition.
Why does she have to love him? Why does she have to suffer childbirth in order to bring more men into the world? (Or daughters who will suffer as well.) Is this how he has won? The Victory asks these questions. However, they cannot be answered.