The Taboo Subject Explored in “Down from Dover” by Dolly Parton

If Dolly Parton did nothing more than write songs, she would still be a national treasure. The singer, actress, philanthropist, and businesswoman has been creating songs since before she could write. She began singing on radio and TV around East Tennessee. At 13, she recorded a single called “Puppy Love,” which was released on Goldband Records. She appeared at the Grand Ole Opry, where Johnny Cash encouraged her to follow her dream.

Videos by American Songwriter

The day after graduating from high school, Parton moved to Nashville and experienced her first success writing songs for others with her uncle, Bill Owens. Bill Phillips cut “Put It off Until Tomorrow” and “The Company You Keep,” and Skeeter Davis took “Fuel to the Flame” to No. 11. Kitty Wells and Hank Williams Jr. recorded her songs. She released a string of pop songs but failed to make much noise on the charts.

It wasn’t until she followed her heart and started recording country songs that success came. In 1967, her first album, Hello, I’m Dolly, included two Top-40 hits, “Dumb Blonde” and “Something Fishy.” She continued to write or co-write songs for her own albums, as well as collaborations with duet partner and mentor Porter Wagoner. By 1970, when The Fairest of Them All was released, Parton provided the majority of the songs, and several were extremely personal. Wagoner advised her that country radio would not play songs containing such intimate details. Although he was right, those songs resonated with listeners in a way others didn’t. Let’s take a look at the story behind “Down from Dover” by Dolly Parton.

I know this dress I’m wearing doesn’t hide the secret I’ve tried concealing |
When he left, he promised me he’d be back by the time it was revealing 
The sun behind a cloud just casts the crawling shadow o’er the fields of clover 
And time is running out for me. I wish that he would hurry down from Dover 
He’s been gone so long when he left. The snow was deep upon the ground 
And I have seen a spring and summer pass, and now the leaves are turning brown 
At any time, a tiny face will show itself ’cause waiting’s almost over 
But I won’t have a name to give it if he doesn’t hurry down from Dover, from Dover, from Dover 

Dover, Tennessee

Having a child out of wedlock was a taboo subject and rarely the subject of a song. In her 2020 book Songteller, Parton wrote about the spark that caused her to begin writing “Down from Dover”: “I remember that I started writing it on Porter Wagoner’s tour bus. We rode past Dover, Tennessee, and my mind started going. It was a beautiful day, and the wind was blowing. There was this field of clover waving in the wind.”

My folks weren’t understanding, when they found out, they sent me from the home place 
My daddy said if folks found out, he’d be ashamed to ever show his face 
My mamma said I was a fool. She did not believe it when I told her 
Momma, everything’s gonna be all right ’cause soon he would be coming down from Dover

“Like Writing a Movie”

Although it didn’t appear in the original recording, when Parton rerecorded the song for her 2001 album Little Sparrow, she included an additional verse about relocating. In 2008, she told Mojo magazine, “When I wrote that—Lord, so many years ago, the mid-’60s, I guess—I knew a lot of young girls getting pregnant, and usually in the mountains, people would pretty much turn you out: You were trash and a whore and your daddy and mama wouldn’t let you come home, so you’d have to go to some home for unwed mothers or a relative would take you in. I’m touched by everything, and that used to bother me; how cruel and awful must that be, how lonely they must feel. That was great fodder for a song—it came to me as a story, like writing a movie.”

I found a place to stay out on a farm takin’ care of that old lady 
She never asked me nothing, so I never talked to her about my baby 
I sent a message to my mom with a name and address of ol’ Ms. Grover 
And to make sure he got that information when he came down from Dover 

In 2019, Netflix aired a series of eight episodes based on the songs of Dolly Parton. “Down from Dover” was featured in one of the episodes, which drilled down further into the story.

I loved him more than anything, and I could not refuse him when he needed me 
He was the only one I’d loved, and I just can’t believe that he was usin’ me 
He wouldn’t leave me here like this. I know it can’t be so. It can’t be over 
He wouldn’t make me go through this alone. He’ll be coming down from Dover 

One of Dolly’s Favorites

Continued Parton in Songteller: “When you tell these stories, you have to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. So I just keep writing along. I never know, myself, how I’m going to end it until I get close to the end. Only when I start talking about it or thinking about it do I realize how morbid I really am. People always say, ‘You just seem so happy.’ I say, ‘Yeah, but I can certainly write you a morbid song!’ But this is still one of my favorites.”

My body aches. The time is here. It’s lonely in this place where I’m lying 
Our baby has been born, but something’s wrong, it’s too still, I hear no crying 
I guess, in some strange way, she knew she’d never have a father’s arms to hold her 
So dying was her way of tellin’ me he wasn’t coming down from Dover, from Dover, from Dover 
Down from Dover

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Photo by David Redfern/Redferns

Leave a Reply

On This Day: Fans Hear Elvis for the First Time on Radio With “That’s All Right” in 1954

5 of the Best American Rock Songs From 1994