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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.
In this poem, Whitman expresses his desire to touch people with his work. He compares his poetry (or songs as he calls them here) to undecorated tree branches: they are "scaly and bare" because they have yet to reach people. He feels as though something needs to happen to make his bare branches flower and bear fruit so that people will be moved by what he has produced. haply: by chance; accidentally verdant: a very poetic, classical word for green.
This poem is a eulogy for Wilhelm I of Germany, the first Emperor of what was then the fledgling German empire. It was composed on March 10, 1888, the day after Wilhelm I died. Columbia: the female personification of America. In this context, Whitman suggests that all of America is mourning the loss of Wilhelm I. salt sea: could be the many oceans that separate Germany from the various nations that look up to it, or it could mean the tears people are shedding over the loss.