Britten notes that he has abandoned this piece in a letter to John Andrewes on 1 Mar 1962.
This work was originally intended as Canticle IV (a piece with this title was not composed until 1974: see Canticle IV 'Journey of the Magi', op. 85). It was written for the London boys' singers to perform at the 1962 Aldeburgh festival, but Britten realised it was too difficult for them. The piece was replaced with arrangements of The twelve apostles and King Herod and the cock. It remained unfinished.
Britten later made an arrangement of 'The bitter withy' in Suite on English folk songs 'A time there was. . .', op. 90.