‘‘Fully Empowered’’ is a poem about how the poet writes, how he mines the material for his work. It is also a celebration of the entire range of his life as a human being. The poem must be understood metaphorically, since there is no literal meaning to many of the phrases he uses. In the first stanza, the poet says that he writes outside in the sunshine, in the crowded street. Perhaps he means by this that he writes about matters that everyone can see and participate in, as part of a human community. Varying the metaphor, he continues that he writes when the tide is in, suggesting a seaside location, but again this should not be understood literally. He likely means that he writes when the tide of creativity flows in him. These are all places, he states at the end of line 2, where he can write well. He then uses a musical metaphor, but he is talking about writing and self-expression. In line 3, he identifies something that puts a brake on his creativity, and he calls it night. It stops his work for a while but then he learns how to use the night, perhaps as material for his poetry.
In stanza 2, the poet continues to write of his own creativity in highly metaphoric language. In line 6 and 7, he writes of the night coming while his eyes focus on something that can be clearly seen and measured, perhaps as material for poetry. In line 8, continuing to explore his creative process, he may be referring to a twenty-four-hour period from one sunrise to the next, including all the hours of darkness. During this time, he is creating the means of understanding so that he can unlock his own creativity. In the twilight, he explores. By this he may be referring metaphorically to things that are not obvious or not clearly seen or understood. He keeps exploring until the sea fills everything. The sea may be a metaphor for truth and knowledge that can bring the light of understanding to all the dark places, the areas of the mind and heart that were formerly empty or unknown.
The poet writes in stanza 3 of how he loves the process of poetic creativity he has metaphorically described in the previous two stanzas. He mines all aspects of the psyche, from light to dark, and goes back and forth between them. He is not concerned about death; he embraces life and death, it does not matter which.
In stanza 4, the poet reflects on how he came to have what he feels are his obligations, perhaps to the earth. He questions from whom or what he may have inherited these obligations. Was it from his parents, he wonders, or from some other, nonhuman source, the mountains, perhaps?
The poet maintains his thought from the previous stanza but does not try to reach any conclusions. The first line continues to explore metaphorically his sense of obligation to life itself, which spreads out in all directions from the central core of his life. All he knows or cares to know is that he continues to live and do what he does simply because that is what he does. His activity is its own reward and justification.
Stanza 6 continues to emphasize that there is something about his life and his psychic processes that is beyond any explanation that he could give. He digs deep into his own being with closed eyes and finds two contrary forces pulling at him. One pulls him toward death, while the other seems to celebrate life and does so in order that the poet might celebrate, too.
In this final stanza, the poet reaches an ambiguous conclusion from everything he has said up to this point. He says that he is formed out of something that is not life. He may perhaps be referring to an inner silence or nothingness that is life in its unmanifest form, but he does not say this explicitly. He leaves it to the reader to understand. He continues with a metaphor about the sea. Just as the waves of a sea break against a reef and pull back stones from it as they ebb, so he, too, is a part of death. Something pulls at him too, and it is death, but paradoxically death is what opens him up to life. He continues to express this paradox in the final line, which returns to the images with which the poem began, of day and night, light and dark. The being of the poet inhabits both these realms, which suggests the ‘‘fully empowered’’ state of being referenced in the title.
Sara Constantakis (Editor), Poetry for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Poetry, Pablo Neruda, Volume 33, published by Gale-Cengage Learning, 2010