Vaughan Williams was a devotee of folk music of the British Isles and, beginning in 1903, managed to collect over 800 folk songs of that origin. Bushes and briars was reportedly his first capture, and he made two arrangements of it, the first for four unaccompanied male voices (two tenors, two baritones) and the latter for unaccompanied mixed chorus. The song's marking is Lento e molto espressivo and its mood is somber, having a post-Renaissance demeanor in its primness and reserve.
It begins with unison singing, but quickly yields contrapuntal harmonizing in its vocal shadowing, when a tenor breaks away to sing the traditional text apart from the chorus. The words often have a somewhat corny feel: "Through bushes and through briars I lately took my way/All for to hear the small birds sing and the lambs to skip and play." Yet, Vaughan Williams' deft arrangement imparts an appropriate ancient sense, a primness whose sonorities convey a sort of Medieval color perfectly suited to the music and text. His deft ability to mix unison singing with two-part writing is almost uncanny. Vaughan Williams keeps the music simple throughout, as was his stylistic wont in this genre. In the end, one can assess this song arrangement as an attractive, if somewhat somber effort.