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This particularly dark poem reflects Whitman’s panic over not being able to write decent poetry while in his dotage years. The “lingering sparse leaves” are the remnants of his poetic genius hanging ominously in the background. He calls himself a “well-shorn tree” because he feels as though all of his talents have been stripped from him, and that all he can produce now is inferior work.

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You lingering sparse leaves of me on winter-nearing boughs,
And I some well-shorn tree of field or orchard-row;
You tokens diminute and lorn (not now the flush of May, or
July clover-bloom no grain of August now;)
You pallid banner-staves you pennants valueless you over-
stayd of time,
Yet my soul-dearest leaves confirming all the rest,
The faithfulest hardiest last.