Hold fast to the law

A bell rang.

The Professors rose at once to their feet. A moment of traditional observance had arrived. Turning the long tables upside down — and there were twelve of them — they seated themselves, one behind another, within upturned table tops as though they were boats and were about to oar they way into some fabulous ocean.
For a moment there was a pause, and then the bell rang again. Before its echo had died in the long refectory, the twelve crews of the motionless flotilla had raised their voices in an obscure chant of former days when, presumably, it held some kind of significance. Tonight it was bayed forth into the half-light with a slow, knocking rhythm, but there was no disguising the boredom in their voices. They had intoned those lines, night after night, for as long as they had been professors, and it might well have been taken for a dirge so empty were they voices:

Hold fast
To the law
Of the last
Cold tome,
Where the earth
Of the truth
Lies thick
On the page,
And the loam
Of faith
In the ink
Long fled
From the drone
Of the nib
Flows on
Trough the breath
Of the bone
In a dawn
Of doom
Where blooms
The rose
For the winds
The child
For the tomb
The thrush.
For the hush
Of song,
The corn
For the scythe
And the thorn
In wait
For the heart
Till the last
Of the first
And the least
Of the past
Is dust
And the dust
is lost.
Hold fast!