The Good Life by Tracy K. Smith

explication by Miko Harper

The Good Life

When some people talk about money

They speak as if it were a mysterious lover

Who went out to buy milk and never

Came back, and it makes me nostalgic

For the years I lived on coffee and bread,

Hungry all the time, walking to work on payday

Like a woman journeying for water

From a village without a well, then living

One or two nights like everyone else

On roast chicken and red wine


In The Good Life, Smith writes of what comes to mind when people think of money. They view it as their possession that comes and goes. Whenever the writer thinks of money, it makes her homesick. She reminisces about the days back when she didn't have a lot of that possession. She lived on "coffee and bread", walked to her low-paying job everyday, as if she would make more money the longer she worked there, and indulged in the few nights when she would have an average "chicken and wine" dinner like any other person.


Smith's language in The Good Life is colloquial, she expresses the struggles she used to live in a very casual tone. For example "then living one or two nights like everyone else or roast chicken and red wine" was an informal phrase used in the poem. An example of one of the two similes Smith used is , "When people talk about money, they speak as if it were a mysterious lover who went out to buy milk and never came back". That mysterious lover is most likely cheating, and when in a relationship with a cheating lover, that lover will disappear into the hands of another owner and go back to it's first lover later. Money doesn't stay in one place for long, it gets in the hands of other people if you don't keep it safe. "Walking to work on payday like a woman journeying for water from a village without a well" was another simile Smith used in The Good Life. She compared her self as a woman going to work everyday without transportation working pay check to pay check, to another woman somewhere in the world looking for the necessity to live without that necessity's source. Smith's source was her workplace, which she was unable to get her "water" from, being it did not provide enough.
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The structure of The Good Life is a simple 10 line poem, there is no particular pattern or rhyme scheme in which it was written. It is a free verse poem in which Smith tells a little bit of how she used to live before becoming successful, almost like a very short story.


Tracy K. Smith uses water to symbolize the little amount of money she received years ago working a dead end job and the well symbolized the dead end job she was stuck with in order to survive on her own. The mysterious lover also symbolizes money in sense of which it comes and goes as it pleases. It's never guaranteed to stay in your possession. Smith's coffee and bread also symbolized anyone else's roasted chicken and red wine, it was her basic everyday meal. Therefore, Smith's "mysterious lover" was able to buy her nice things and good meals when he was around, however when he left she had to go back to coffee and bread.
Frank Ocean - Not just money.

Not just Money

Stop thinking of this as being money
It's just money, I'mma make more
Please decondition yourself
It's the difference between happy, being happy and sad
It's the difference between having a home and living on the streets
That's what it is, it's not just money
It's so much more than that
Right now it's the difference between you being able to go to a prom
And disappointing a girl
As I told you from the beginning, I don't have money
I have bills to pay, but that meant nothing to you
Ooh yeah, I'mma make myself a hot link when I get home
It meant nothing to you
Savin' my seven dollars


Smith's The Good Life relates to Ocean's Not Just Money in a sense that having more money won't necessarily make you happier, it'll just make you richer. Smith states that she misses some of the times when she was low on money and Ocean expresses money as being "just money", and he'll be able to make more. Both of these writers feel that money isn't always the key to everything, it is important, but it is not the key. People can live without a lot of money, it may be harder, but life revolves around other factors.