“Ah, every pier is a longing in stone!” says a line in Fernando Pessoa’s Portuguese poem “Ode Marítima.” Pessoa’s pier represents the emotions we feel as a ship moves slowly away from us. The vessel departs but the pier remains, an enduring monument to hopes and dreams, partings and yearnings. We ache for what is lost, and for what we can’t quite reach.
The Portuguese word translated “longing” (saudade) refers to a nostalgic yearning we feel—a deep ache that defies definition. In essence, the poet is describing the indescribable.
We might say that Mount Nebo was Moses’s “longing in stone.” From Nebo he gazed into the Promised Land—a land he would never reach. The Lord’s words to Moses—“I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it” (Deuteronomy 34:4)—might seem harsh. But if that’s all we see here, we miss the heart of what’s happening. God is speaking immense comfort to Moses: “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants’” (v. 4). Very soon, Moses would leave Nebo for a Land far better than Canaan (v. 5).
Life often finds us standing on the pier. Loved ones depart; hopes fade; dreams die. Amid it all we sense echoes of Eden and hints of heaven. Our longings point us to God. He is the fulfillment we yearn for.