Calon Lan, with the exception of the Welsh National Anthem, would surely be the song that would most spring to mind when discussing Wales’ most popular national songs. It would be difficult to imagine that anybody wouldn’t be moved by a stirring rendition of the song, such as sung by Bryn Terfel and the Orchestra of the Welsh National Opera. With the lyrics expounding the thriving for a pure heart and the music comprising a beautiful emotive melody, for many Welsh people it is difficult to keep the tears at bay. With this in mind it is amazing that the song is rumoured to have been written on no more than the back of a cigarette packet in a pub. How could such an important song, to so many, have started out with such humble beginnings? This blog discusses the history of the song, it’s cultural importance in Welsh life, different Welsh musician’s versions and an English translation too.
Calon Lân in Welsh
Nid wy’n gofyn bywyd moethus,
Aur y byd na’i berlau mân:
Gofyn wyf am galon hapus,
Calon onest, calon lân.
Calon lân yn llawn daioni,
Tecach yw na’r lili dlos:
Dim ond calon lân all ganu
Canu’r dydd a chanu’r nos.
Pe dymunwn olud bydol,
Hedyn buan ganddo sydd;
Golud calon lân, rinweddol,
Yn dwyn bythol elw fydd.
Hwyr a bore fy nymuniad
Gwyd i’r nef ar adain cân
Ar i Dduw, er mwyn fy Ngheidwad,
Roddi i mi galon lân.
Calon Lan translation to English
I don’t ask for a luxurious life,
the world’s gold or its fine pearls,
I ask for a happy heart,
an honest heart, a pure heart.
A pure heart full of goodness
Is fairer than the pretty lily,
None but a pure heart can sing,
Sing in the day and sing in the night.
If I wished for worldly wealth,
It would swiftly go to seed;
The riches of a virtuous, pure heart
Will bear eternal profit.
Evening and morning, my wish
Rising to heaven on the wing of song
For God, for the sake of my Saviour,
To give me a pure heart.
Calon Lan slate plaque
We at Gifts with heart offer a beautiful Calon Lan slate plaque for sale.
What does Calon Lan mean?
Calon Lan is simple in meaning with a Christian theme. The lyrics reveal the benefits of a pure heart, not tainted by greed. Chasing after riches that are not permanent will not lead to a pure heart and peace with God.
Who wrote Calon Lan?
Calon Lan was written by two people. The lyrics were written by Daniel James and the tune was composed by John Hughes.
Daniel James spent his life living in poverty. Born in 1948, with four siblings James lost his father, a stone mason, at a young age. With no income coming into the household, the responsibility of bringing money into the family fell on his shoulders. With little education, he started one of many manual labour jobs at Morriston Dyffryn Steel works at the young age of thirteen.
When not earning he started researching and devoting his energy to poetry. He was also guided by D.W. Thomas, a member of Mynyddbach Chapel. James first began to write poems under the pseudonym Dafydd Mynyddbach.
He worked in a tin mine and later was renowned for his heavy drinking and for beer money would write songs for the general merriment of local public house crowds. So much so that he became known locally as the ‘bad boy of Mynyddbach Chapel’. One story about James was that his wife asked one day to buy some butter. Disobeying her instruction James went to the pub instead and used the money to buy beer. In a panic he went to a friend and asked him for some money so that he could buy the butter and not suffer the wrath of his wife. His friend complied, saving his bacon and in gratitude James wrote him a poem.
Another story had James sleeping in the pigsty at the foot of his garden due to his wife not letting him back in the house because of his drunkenness. Waking to the sound of a choir at a nearby chapel, James perceived them omitting to close hymns with an Amen. James was clearly a devoutly religious man as the words to Calon Lan echoes. In honour of this observation he wrote a poem called “Where’s the Amen?”. Thank goodness for the pigsty!
He had several children across two marriages. In 1885 he was awarded with the bardic name Gwyrosydd (man of the moors). His first wife Ann died in 1887 not long after giving birth to their youngest child.
When was Calon Lan written?
It is claimed that Daniel James wrote the words to Calon Lan on the back of a cigarette packet in 1891 whilst living at Blaengarw. Moreover it has been rumoured that the first public performance of Calon Lan was at the Blaengarw Hotel.
Calon Lan was initially put to music written by Thomas Bedford Richards and it has been sung to four different compositions over the centuries. It was later that the words were put to John Hughes’s tune. This is the music we are all familiar with today.
In 1895 he lost his second wife during the birth of their second child.
As James matured and developed health problems, he was forced to leave the mines at the age of 68. In 1904 one of his sons William died following infection after a mining accident. He then worked at the council as a cemetery caretaker in Mountain Ash. He died in 1920 at the age of 73 living off a small pension.
In 1953 Gwyrosydd Primary school in Swansea was opened and named in his honour. Several streets and a park have also been given his name. During his lifetime, as well as his work being published in newspapers and periodicals, three books of his own poems were published.
- Caneuon Gwyrosydd 
- Caniadau Gwyrosydd 
- Aeron Awen Gwyrosydd 
In 2013 an animated film was made for BBC Wales, celebrating the life of the Welsh bard. The film was created by the historical society in Treboeth, Swansea University and several primary schools, supported by the National Lottery Fund.
First of all it is important to note that John Hughes is often confused with another John Hughes, who was born in Llantwit Fardre near Pontypridd and wrote hymns. The John Hughes we are not talking about here is known for penning the music to ‘Cwm Rhondda’.
The Calon Lan John Hughes was born in Penbryn in Pembrokeshire in 1872. Hughes worked most of his life at the Dyffryn Steel works at Morrison in Swansea, climbing the ranks and reaching the position of marketing manager. He started with the company at the age of twelve. He spoke seven languages. This was extremely useful to his job role, as he travelled across the globe.on various commercial missions.
Hughes married and had three children. He led the choir at Philadelphia Chapel in Hafod.
He composed many tunes and hymns during his lifetime. It was at Daniel James’s request that Hughes wrote the music for Calon Lan. Hughes sadly died in 1914 of a brain haemorrhage leaving his wife and three children.
Katherine Jenkins Calon Lan
Katherine Jenkins covered Calon Lan on her album 2004 Second Nature. She sang the tune to open the Ashes cricket test match in Cardiff in 2009.
Calon Lan funeral
Calon Lan is sometimes selected and sung at funerals. With the passing of Wales’s First Minister Rhodri Morgan of the Welsh Assembly in 2017, his young grandson chose to sing the song in his honour. The rendition moved many to tears. Katherine Jenkins has stated that this is the song she would like to be played at her funeral.
Calon Lan rugby
Calon Lan is one of the songs that Welsh rugby fans sing during or at the start of games. In the World Cup of 2019 the Welsh team were movingly sung to by Japanese school children. The gesture of singing Calon Lan was a very moving one for the team. Ryan Jones, the Welsh captain at the time said of the moment,
“I’ve never experienced anything like this in my career. It’s astonishing and really emotional.”
At the welcoming opening ceremony to the same World Cup, the Welsh squad sang the song on stage. The British and Irish Lions sang the song at the beginning of their tour in New Zealand in 2017 as well as official functions. This was following a course of singing lessons for the players helping them to hit all the notes.
Calon Lan chords
The chords for Calon Lan are as follows
Nid wy’n gofyn bywyd moethus
Aur y byd, na’i berlau mân
Gofyn wyf am galon hapus
C G C
Galon honest, galon lân
Galon lân yn llawn dahoni
Tecach yw na’r lili dlos
Dim on calon lân all ganu
C G C
Canu’r dydd a chanu’r nôs
Pe dymunwn olud bydol
Hedyn buon ganddo sydd
Golud calon lân rinweddol
C G C
Yn dwyn bythol elw fydd
Hwyr y bore fy nymuniad
Gwyd i’r nêf a’r edyn gân
A’r i dduw, er mwyn fy ngheidwad
C G C
Rhoddi i mi galon lân
Calon Lan Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calon_Lân