The Victory by Anne Stevenson

When I first looked at this piece, it reminded me

of Bill Watterson's poems from the front of Calvin

& Hobbes anthologies, like "The Yukon Song" from

page three of Yukon Ho! ("We'll never have to go

to school,/Forced into submission,/By monstrous,

crabby teachers who'll/Make us learn addition.").

This was primarily because the outward subject of

the poem is immediately apparent: a woman

complaining about her baby son. It is not hidden

behind a shroud of metaphors and images, requiring

particularly deep thought for understanding. The

basic idea is clear. The association was also due

to the almost trite A-B-A-B rhyme scheme, which

makes it seem a bit comical at first glance.

This carefree, sing-song format may have been used

deliberately by the poet to show that, despite the

negative things she is saying, she loves her son

unconditionally. She can't help it. "Why do I have

to love you?" she muses in line 15. This poem

seems more like the things an adoring mother might

say to her infant son after he awakens her in the

night with his "bladed cries" than the fervent

rantings of a mental patient whose son destroyed

her life.

The first stanza is fairly straightforward. It

depicts clearly the pride a mother feels after she

has given birth in spite of the physical pain it

caused her. This mother thought of her son as a

victory. She had won; she had fulfilled her

purpose in life. Nevertheless, she immediately

noticed the apparent unappreciativeness ("…you cut

me like a knife") which plagues many parents

through their children's first twenty years, and

beyond. Clearly lines three and four, "…I brought

you out of my body/into your life," refer to the

actual birth of her son.

The second stanza physically describes the

newborn. It is extremely difficult to give birth

(or so I've heard); to battle against this "tiny

antagonist" who doesn't seem to want to go where

he is being pushed. And when he finally comes out

he is little more than a gory, eight-pound bruise.

"Tiny antagonist" also introduces the idea that

this is a bit of a competition between mother and

infant, an idea which is revisited in the last

line. The "cloud of glory" mentioned in line seven

is physically the placenta, but represents a sort

of organic royal robe; an air of entitlement,

almost pretentiousness, that children and

adolescents often have.

The poem gets a little more interesting as we

enter the third stanza. First, there is the word

"blind" in line nine, which has a double meaning.

The most obvious is that the newborn baby can

barely see through his "blank insect eyes," yet he

still dares to scream and demand. Far more

interesting, though, is the idea that this is a

"blind baby" as in a "blind shot" or a "blind

curve." The mother (and probably the father, too)

went into this baby-making business blindly,

without fully understanding what was involved.

This comes to mind for the mother now as she gets

up, for the nth time that month, to feed her baby

in the middle of the night.

Also interesting in stanza three is the first of

two animal analogies. Both the insect in line ten

and the snail in line 13 are animals which are

more or less at the mercy of humans. Either can be

snuffed out relatively easily. This is true of the

baby, too. Despite his thankless attitude, he is

alive only because others allow him to be. The two

small animals each individually represent other

characteristics of the son. The insect is a

mindless drone, existing only to eat and, it

seems, to annoy, while the snail is lazy,

sluggish, and snot-covered. The insect metaphor is

carried to the end of the third stanza, as the

baby is said to "barb the air" and "sting/with

bladed cries." There is also a "Hungry snarl" in

line 14. A snarl, while not animal by definition,

is often associated with dogs and other beasts, so

it seems prudent to tie it in.

This poem, like many others, pulls out of images

in the last two-and-a-half lines to dabble in

self-analysis. Line 15 stands out from the rest of

the poem because it breaks the otherwise rigid

rhyme scheme. Again, she wants to emphasize that

in spite of all she has said, she truly does love

her son. However, she is also expressing genuine

wonder as to why she is forced to love this

creature which gives her nothing, not even thanks,

in return.

Finally, in the last line, we return to the idea

of a competition when the mother is bewildered to

discover that her "small son" was really the

victor in the end. It amazes her that such a tiny,

helpless thing got the best of her. Based on the

title of the poem, though, I think they both won.

A title is often nothing more than a one-line

summary of a poem, which to me means that her

little winner is, cheesy as it may sound, himself

a victory for her.

Many of the ideas explored in "The Victory" work

just as well for a mother lamenting her son in his

teenage years. She is helping him, after an

all-too-short childhood, into his life as an

adult, yet he is thankless. He cuts her like a

knife, he stings "with bladed cries." His

blindness can now be interpreted as unacknowledged

naivity; the lines "…Scary knot of desires!" and

"Why do I have to love you?" become even more

meaningful, even poignant. This is one of the

things that makes this poem great, despite its

outward simplicity. It is truly timeless and

flexible

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