This poem employs language in ways that are characteristic of the involuntary outbursts seen in patients with Gilles de la Tourette's syndrome. The devices include frequent obscenities, word repetition, and a jerky, spasmodic forward motion. The male Tourette patient is thwacking "the roof of the car, knuckles / calloused and winking . . . " He is driving with his wife beside him, patting her thigh, "her thighs are warm as kettles, your palms moist / as hiss . . . " Whatever it is that happens in the last stanza, he becomes excited, "god damn, god fucking / damn, and god bless." [30 lines]


Tourette's syndrome is a rare neurological disease characterized by recurrent involuntary tics (muscle spasms) and vocalizations. First described by Georges Gilles de la Tourette in 1885, this syndrome is three times more common in males than in females and usually begins in childhood or adolescence. The verbal symptoms include coprolalia, the compulsion to utter obscenities; echolalia, a compulsion to repeat words heard; and palilalia, repetition of one's own words. Other vocalizations that may occur include grunts, barks, and whistles.


Preface by Richard Wilbur

Primary Source

Sixty Years of American Poetry


Henry N. Abrams

Place Published

New York




Robert Penn Warren