I had forgotten that an interesting text by Tolkien discussing just
this problem has been published, in Verlyn Flieger's fascinating book,
_A Question of Time: J.R.R. Tolkien's Road to _Faërie_ (Kent State,
1997; and recently available in trade paperback, see Amazon.com). The
text is given on pp. 69-70. Some excerpts:
"Our language is confused using _after_ and _before_ both (in certain
circumstances) of the _future_. We sometimes think and speak of the
future as what lies before us, we look ahead, are provident,
forward-looking, yet are ancestors preceded us and are our
fore-fathers; and any event in time is _before_ one that is later. We
speak as if events and a succession of human lives were an endless
column moving forward into the unknown.... As far as a single
experiencing mind goes, it seems a most natural transference of spatial
to linear language to say that the past is _behind_ it and that it
_advances_ forwards into the future, that later events are _before_ or
in _front_ of earlier ones.
"In Elvish sentiment the _future_ was not one of hope or desire, but a
decay and retrogression from former bliss and power.... Their
position, as of latter day sentiment, was one of exiles driven forward
(against their will) who were in mind or actual posture ever looking
"But in _actual language_ time and place had distinct expressions."
And there Tolkien's text breaks off.