Cat Stevens: The First Cut Is The Deepest (Sheryl Crow, Rod Stewart)

The First Cut Is The Deepest is a very catchy tune written by Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam) in 1967. It has been frequently covered and became a hit single for several artists. The first was P. P. Arnold in 1967, even before Stevens’ own version was released on his album New Masters in December of the same year. This is the most recent hit version by Sheryl Crow 2003, more than three decades after initial release:

The First Cut Is The Deepest – Chart Success and Awards

P. P. Arnold reached no. 18 on the UK Singles Chart. Cat Stevens won the ASCAP Songwriter of the Year Award in 2005 and, again, in 2006, for this song. He did not, however, release it as a single.

In Keith Hampshire‘s version, the song climbed to number one in Canada in 1973, before Rod Stewart reached the top spot in 1977 in the UK, the Netherlands, and Germany. Sheryl Crow got to number one on the US Adult Alternative Songs, US Adult Contemporary, and US Adult Top 40. Further covers were done, among others, by Norma Fraser and Papa Dee.

Relating to the Lyrics

Many people can intuitively relate to the lyrics.

I would have given you all of my heart
But there’s someone who’s torn it apart
And she’s taking almost all that I’ve got
But if you want, I’ll try to love again
Baby I’ll try to love again … but I know

The first cut is the deepest

There is a soul mate, someone worth loving – but the speaker cannot fully dedicate himself to love. What holds him back is not related to his counterpart – only to his own wounds, his past. His heart is torn … So he feels: The first separation is the most severe.

He longs for love, he tries to be close to her, he is looking for comfort, he tries to open up, he wants to keep trying, but it is hard to do.

I still want you by my side
Just to help me dry the tears that I’ve cried
‘Cause I’m sure gonna give you a try
And if you want, I’ll try to love again
But baby, I’ll try to love again, but I know

The first cut is the deepest

This is very personal. Can these words, like many other love songs, be interpreted on a spiritual level?

A Spiritual Interpretation of The First Cut Is The Deepest

If Goethe‘s words in Faust are true that Everything transitory is but an image, then we may apply the song to the spiritual path: Here, too, the task is to dedicate oneself to (the higher aspect of) love, to open one’s heart. And here, too, wounds from the past may hold the seeker back. He who opens up makes himself vulnerable – and who would enjoy being hurt (again)?

People who devote themselves to the life of the soul, overcome limits – mainly inner borders of the ego. At the level of the (eternal) soul there is no separation. But to embark on a spiritual journey, people often (justifiably) connect to fellow seekers on the material sphere and form groups. Then they may be lead in situations that confront them with old wounds – may that be wounds acquired in this life, or maybe even stretching further back to previous incarnations; experiences stored in deeper aspects of their being. Healing in a spiritual sense often means bringing the unconscious into consciousness. That may not be easy at times.

Being Confronted with Wounds from the Past

The situations in which people feel confronted with wounds from the past are, not surprisingly, as individual as people themselves are. But there are patterns, since many people have made similar experiences. For example, there have been lots of mystical, occult, magical, religious, or spiritual practices that may not always have been carried out with pure hearts. So many seekers will be, to a greater or lesser degree, influenced by such attempts. Now when anything that happens in her or his current group relates to what had been coined to her / his system, the seeker may suddenly withdraw, or maybe react in some non-appropriate way, or be blocked somehow. Sometimes, we tend to blame the current group, without realizing a deeper cause within ourselves. This could happen, for example, when singing, or when certain words are spoken or images are brought up, or through the inevitable tensions that arise in human cooperation.

When things are moving in a positive direction, we can develop a sense of discernment that helps us realize whether the “problem” is personal, or whether the current group indeed works with questionable methods or forces.

What is the “First Cut”, the First Separation?

What could the “First Cut” refer to in a spiritual sense? On our soul journey through the cycle of incarnations, every human will likely have experienced many painful split-ups, and so be deeply stamped. The starting point for all this suffering was the separation from the divine sphere that the human race performed to experience the world of opposites and transitoriness. This initial separation, this first cut is the deepest, since all our conflicts, all our pain originate there. Seeing ourselves as being sinners can thus be understood not in a moral sense, but in the sense of separation from initial purity. True religion, re-ligio, is re-connection with the divine realm, the field of unity. He who sets out on this path will receive all the energy needed to heal his wounds – to the extent he dares to open up for this purifying energy.

The Healing Path

This healing path leads out of interchanging fortunes of happiness and sadness, of love and loneliness, and into an experience of unity within oneself.

It does not matter much whether this path is persued within a partnership (though a partner can help by mirroring unconscious behavior) or without a partner. The ultimate connection is that between soul and spirit.

Finally, the original version:

Cat Stevens’ Spiritual Path

A note on Cat Stevens’ spiritual path: His 1972 album Catch Bull at Four relates to the Ten Bulls / Ten Ox Herding Pictures of the Chan Buddhism tradition, which describe 10 stages. Stevens allegedly made a self-assessment on his progress. In December 1977, Stevens converted to Islam, and has studied not only Qur’an, but also Buddhism and Zen.

What's your view?