To Crave and To Have


From Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, since the word "calyx" has been on my mind today:

Imagine a Carthage sown with salt, and all the sowers gone, and the seeds lain however long in the earth, till there rose finally in vegetable profusion leaves and trees of rime and brine. What flowering would there be in such a garden? Light would force each salt calyx to open in prisms, and to fruit heavily with bright globes of water–-peaches and grapes are little more than that, and where the world was salt there would be greater need of slaking. For need can blossom into all the compensations it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing–-the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again.

Forgive me as I dissect such a beautiful flower. Robinson blends a few ideas here, not all of which I buy:

  • Craving intensifies its satisfaction. — yes, if that craving can be satisfied nearly exactly in the way we had imagined it.

  • Craving manifests its satisfaction. — at times through focused intention, yes, but craving can also thrash about to exhaustion.

  • Craving is almost its own satisfaction. — just as a man might recall a lost beloved, and through his intense craving imagine resurrect and behold her as a simulation of someone once real. But the more we buy into the simulation, the less we lose touch with the ground under our feet, and the more we forget to take the next step.