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Like many of the poems in the Second Annex this one seems to deal with life and death. He uses how nature goes through a natural cycle of life and death with the changes from spring to winter as a metaphor for what goes on in our lives. This is to say that even though we may die there will always be new life so that the annual play continues.
Cognizance: An emblem, badge or device, used as a distinguishing mark by the body of retainers of a royal or noble house; Notice or awareness
Arbutus: any of several evergreen shrubs of the genus Arbutus of temperate Europe and America.
Clod: a lump of something, especially of earth or clay; a stupid person; a dolt
Suffuse: * cause to spread or flush or flood through, over, or across; "The sky was suffused with a warm pink color" * to become overspread as with a fluid, a colour, a gleam of light; "His whole frame suffused with a cold dew"
Ligature: In medicine, a ligature is a device, similar to a tourniquet, usually of thread or string, tied around a limb, blood vessel or similar to restrict blood flow. A ligature can be used for tumor strangulation, carried out before removal. The process of making ligatures is called "ligation".
This poem seems to be one of Whitman's most straightforward. It seems to just want to state that as time passes each generation continues to face the same problems as the prior. I think in particular he is talking about death and how we become more familiar with every coming year of our lives.