Sample Poem Analysis on Anne Stevenson's "The Victory"
Poetry allows authors to express themselves without the constraint of society. Poets can talk about their opinions of life, death, suffering, happiness, and other topics that may break social norms and challenge well-established ideas. Anne Stevenson’s “The Victory” is an example of a piece that challenges societal norms, specifically the gender roles of women as mothers. “The Victory” expresses the pain that a mother endures during childbirth which should cause her to resent the process, however, the sight of her newborn child brings on the emotion of love.
About Anne Stevenson
Anne Stevenson was a poet and writer born in Cambridge, England, and spent most of her life in the UK. She wrote various types of poems , books, essays, and other literary pieces which yielded her various awards. According to George Szirtes, a British poet, Stevenson wrote poems about natural and rational elements that emphasize humanity, intelligence, and sanity (“Anne Stevenson”). This is a relevant interpretation of her work that can help in understanding the message of “The Victory”. Furthermore, Stevenson was also a mother of three children and became a grandmother to six, which included boys. Since “The Victory” offers a hint of misandry, acknowledging Stevenson’s relationships can help remove biases that may result in poor interpretations.
A Hint of Misandry in “The Victory”
“The Victory” is made up of four quatrains, with most lines expressing negative emotions towards a child. In the poem’s first line: “I thought you were my victory”, Stevenson implies disappointment regarding the birth of a child which the poem later reveals as a “small son”. Other stanzas and lines similarly express the same disappointment along with the emotion of spite and contempt. Stevenson referred to the child as a “tiny antagonist”, “blind thing”, and “snail; all implying that she perceives the child as a burden. The hint of misandry in the poem comes from the author’s implied neglect and tendency to abuse the child (Widiyanto et al.). Stevenson used words that do not reflect affection towards a child, causing some readers to interpret a hint of neglect. The phrase “tiny antagonist” even implies that the author perceives the child as her enemy. This can mean that she may want to harm the child, especially after it has caused her pain through childbirth.
However, the last stanza of the poem presents an antithesis to the initial message of the first three stanzas . Stevenson wrote: “Why do I have to love you? / How have you won?”, indicating that despite the prior emotions the author felt, she ended up developing an affection for the child. This disproves, or at the very least, weakens, the claim of misandry in the poem since the author developed a love for her “small son”. It is also worth noting that the word “son” is only present in the last stanza and the author made no other reference to the male gender. Some can argue that the poem’s first line, which implied disappointment, may be an indication that the author wanted a daughter. However, the preceding stanzas describe the pain of childbirth and the behavior of infants, regardless of gender. Therefore, the disappointment in the first line is not from the birth of a son, but the realization that the birthing process is mostly the child’s victory.
“The Victory” contains many lines that describe the birthing process. Stevenson used the words and phrases “cut,” “knife,” “gory,” “bled from my veins,” “bladed cries,” and “knot of desires” to illustrate the bloody and painful procedure. Mardsen also noted that the poem establishes a separation between the mother and child through the strong use of the words “my”, referring to the mother; and “you/your”, referring to the son. Through these, the author describes and embodies childbirth in the poem. The use of violent and aggressive words illustrates the painful and agonizing process of separation. She expresses that the mother and the child are separate entities and that her negative feelings towards the latter are within reason. She has suffered for the child, cutting open her body and risking her life, and so she should not have any other obligations.
The poem also described the condition of a child after childbirth. Stevenson described the newborn child as “blue as a bruise”, referring to its color before it breathed its first heap of oxygen. The line: “You barb the air. You sting / with bladed cries”, refers to the cries of a newborn which the author finds irritating. “Blank insect eyes”, “Snail”, and “Hungry snarl” imply animalistic characteristics, indicating contempt towards the child. However, the use of the word “snail” presents various rooms for interpretation as it symbolizes impotence, power, gender, observation of the natural environment, slowing down, endurance, and decay (Myers). From the poem’s context, the author may be trying to symbolize impotence, slowness, and even decay.
The Child’s “Victory”
The last stanza reveals that despite the initial negative feelings of the mother, she ended up feeling love for her son. In the second line of the last stanza, Stevenson wrote: “Hungry snarl. Small son”, indicating a transition in her perception. Here, she begins to see the child not as an antagonist or a blind insect, but as a person. One can interpret this as the author carrying the child for the first time, hence the observation of the “hungry snarl”, as well as the “blank insect eyes” from the third stanza. By carrying the child and holding it in her arms, a symbol of reconnection after the painful separation process, the mother perceives the child as a human being that requires attention and care.
The last two lines are the mother’s testaments of affection towards her child. The lines, “Why do I have to love you? / How have you won?”, signify that the child is the victor in the conflict between mother and child. The lines, which end in question marks , suggest that the mother questions her feelings, but does so affectionately. She cannot hate or feel spite and contempt for the child, which she now loves. At the poem's beginning, she attempted to challenge her role as a mother. The author eventually learned that she possesses an innate love towards the child that she cannot neglect, and thus loses the battle. However, this does not mean that a mother has no choice in the matter. It simply suggests that the love between mother and child is innate and ever-present.
Anne Stevenson’s “The Victory” is a powerful piece that describes the pain of childbirth and a mother’s innate love for her children. While some may perceive the piece as seemingly misandrist, which is still a valid interpretation, the poem strongly illustrates the relationship between mother and child, regardless of the child’s gender. Through this poem, Stevenson expresses the significance of a child to a mother and the sacrifices she makes. “The Victory” showcases that the separation and reconnection between mother and child are natural processes that inevitably result in love.
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“Anne Stevenson”. Poetry Foundation, n.d. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/anne-stevenson. Accessed: August 16, 2022.
Mardsen, Steve. “Walkthrough of “The Victory” By Anne Stevenson. Youtube, Uploaded by Steve Mardsen, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_pmRltQfqo. Accessed: August 16, 2022.
Myers, Christiana. “The Snails Are Back in Town”. Canadianart, 2019. https://canadianart.ca/essays/the-snails-are-back-in-town/. Accessed: August 16, 2022.
Stevenson, Anne. “The Victory”. The Collected Poems. Oxford Paperbacks, 1996. https://www.anne-stevenson.co.uk/collected_poems.html. Accessed: August 16, 2022.
Widiyanto, M., Kustantiha Indri, and Astria, Isana. “Misandry in Anne Stevenson’s Poem ‘The Victory’: A Psychoanalytic Feminist Study. ETERNAL (English Teaching Journal), 2011. http://journal.upgris.ac.id/index.php/eternal/article/view/90. Accessed: August 16, 2022.