This essay examines the complex relationship between poetry and notes in Southey's Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814) and the ways in which this double textual structure bears upon the national narrative of the poem. Following the popular tradition of annotated metrical tales and oscillating between romance and epic, Southey's poem is shown to be a plural work in which the prose appendage complicates the seemingly clear celebration of the Spanish nation proposed by the poetry. The poetry, indeed, constructs Gothic Spain as a modern-day nation through an accumulation of characters, tales, and objects. In general, the notes support this nation-making project by creating an archeologically reliable history of the nation. Frequently, however, they also subvert this history by unmasking the manipulations and gaps of the nationalist narrative. The counter-text of the prose marginalia can therefore be said to function as a Derridean supplement and, moreover, as a historically localized set of discourses that both construct and disperse the nation. As remarked by one of Southey's first reviewers, this textual strategy constitutes a kind of "knowing style," a subversion of poetry by prose (and vice-versa), particularly significant at a time when the author was not only shifting from radical to conservative positions but also gradually abandoning poetry in favor of historiography. By focusing on the competing narratives of the Spanish nation in prose and verse, this essay provides an insight into Roderick as caught between the contradictory multiplicity of its discourse and the attempt to deliver an ideologically closed narrative.
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