When Song Is Warrior

Calon lan yn llawn daioni tecach yw na'r lili dlos: dim ond calon lan all ganu, canu'r dydd a chanu'r nos. A pure heart full of goodness is lovelier than the fair lily: only a pure heart can sing, sing all day and sing all night.

FOR many Welsh people, religion is song. It's like what happens at a rugby football match when Wales plays England. That's either at Cardiff Arms Park in the Welsh capital or at Twickenham stadium in London.

It happens in the crowd. Before the game begins, some 60,000 voices fill the sky. What we hear is a hymn: "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah," to the tune of "Cwm Rhondda." Every Welshman in the crowd harmonizes instinctively and naturally. And on the heels of that hymn, the unexpected beauty of "Calon Lan," the lyrics of which are shown above.

Then, of course, the national anthems. Being part of that crowd is like being part of an act of worship. The sheer lyrical power of what is heard - a wave of sound - astonishes even the singers themselves. And it offers the listener a stunning insight into the nature of the Welsh heart.

For these irrepressible Celts, song is warrior as much as an expression of religious fervor. The glory of struggle is in the people's blood. But at the same time, a strange ambivalence is to be found: Within this struggle, somehow beauty and humor have become companions. Here, indeed, is the very ethos of Wales.

It's something I'm trying to catch in the following poem: Wales versus England March - but you'd think it was June, see, with the air vibrating between the uprights and the butterflies (four of them) pairing down the touchline, stitching up the seconds between us and the kickoff. Cymru! Cymru! 1* The Cardiff pubs are empty, the leeks tied to the goal posts, and all the girls in love. Sing your blinkin' heart out: The lovely rascals come now, little red devils with the three feathers flairing from their jerseys and dragons at their pine-ends! Push your cap back, bach, 2* and let yourself go there with Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau 3* and God Save the Queen. Wales have won the toss. It's like a sabbath over Twickenham. The whistle for the kickoff. The run up. And the roar as the ball soars over the English like a psalm - on up to the March sun, the voice of Wales behind it. The girls take root and the leeks sprout roses and joy is a high hawk taking on the wind! But after it's all over, this day will be remembered for the way that it began, see, win or lose. It's all the same story for the midnight minstrel: The butterflies and glory tries and South Wales News. 4* 1* Wales. 2* Little one. 3* "The Land of My Fathers," the Welsh national anthem. 4* A former Welsh newspaper.

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