It’s always good to have something to look forward to in life. A light on the horizon to outshine the dull days, a landmark to travel towards; something of huge and overwhelming importance or just a little bit of loveliness. Wild and untamed anticipation of such things is part of the very essence of existence. Counting down to an event, mentally marking the days off as they pass, trying desperately to contain your excitement from boiling over – is there anything more satisfying? Of course that’s a contradiction in itself, given that the ultimate goal is still tantalisingly out of reach… there’s a lot to be said for the thrill of the chase.
But anticipation is a funny thing; in all its intoxicating headiness and inducing euphoria, it can often mislead and even make you miss what you were so fervently awaiting altogether. Perhaps it is a slight exaggeration to talk of post-occasion-depression following the conclusion of a long expected event but even when you’ve undeniably enjoyed whatever it was you’d waited in vain for, it’s almost certain that some element of deflation and melancholy will set in in the aftermath. Then the cycle begins again – needing to find another thing in the not-too-distant future to pencil into the diary, to feel and savour the addiction of anticipation, to play the waiting game once more. If it wasn’t such a universal phenomenon, I’d venture that the peculiar fondness for waiting for a thing to arrive has a lot to do with the unrivalled British ability to queue for outstanding amounts of time. Being accustomed to it is one thing, but having the process actually overshadow the eventual outcome is another thing altogether – and rather unfortunate.
Maybe the anti-climactic effect of some events arises due to the vastly disproportionate amount of time between expecting and experiencing. We can anticipate for days, weeks, even months and years and the feeling becomes almost tangible; on the other hand, many things awaited for come and go not quite within the blink of an eye but don’t last for all that long. The elusive, and indeed perhaps illusive, quality of events anticipated are emphasised by Samuel Daniel in this poem, whereby it is stated – after some questioning – that ‘pleasures only shadows be’. It seems appropriate to think of them as such, although somewhat semantically jarring as shadows are typically associated with the darker side of life. However the pleasures we do have flit and fade away relatively quickly and are made all the sweeter – or more appropriately bittersweet – for doing so. It’s unlikely we’ll ever completely learn to give up the chase so then we must continue to ‘feed apace’ our ‘greedy eyes’…
Are They Shadows
Are they shadows that we see?
And can shadows pleasure give?
Pleasures only shadows be
Cast by bodies we conceive
And are made the things we deem
In those figures which they seem.
But these pleasures vanish fast
Which by shadows are expressed;
Pleasures are not, if they last;
In their passing is their best.
Glory is most bright and gay
In a flash, and so away.
Feed apace then, greedy eyes,
On the wonder you behold;
Take it sudden as it flies,
Though you take it not to hold.
When your eyes have done their part,
Thought must length it in the heart.
Samuel Daniel (1562-1619)