13

Here is a song by Bulat Okudzhava "Дежурный по апрелю":

Ах, какие удивительные ночи,
только мама моя в грусти и тревоге:
"Что же ты гуляешь, мой сыночек,
одинокий, одинокий?
Что же ты гуляешь, мой сыночек,
одинокий, одинокий?"

Из конца в конец апреля путь держу я,
стали звёзды и крупнее, и добрее.
"Мама, мама, это я дежурю –
я дежурный по апрелю.
Мама, мама, это я дежурю –
я дежурный по апрелю"

"Мой сыночек, вспоминаю всё, что было.
Стали грустными глаза твои, сыночек.
Может быть, она тебя забыла,
знать не хочет, знать не хочет?
Может быть, она тебя забыла,
знать не хочет, знать не хочет?"

Из конца в конец апреля путь держу я,
Стали звёзды и крупнее, и добрее.
"Что ты, мама! Просто я дежурю –
я дежурный по апрелю.
Мама, мама, это я дежурю –
я дежурный по апрелю"

While I kind of understand the plot of the song, I still don't get the meaning of the phrase "дежурный по апрелю". I've looked through all available resources and couldn't find the answer. Is it a kind of idiom in Russian? Or, perhaps, it was a common phrase with some special meaning pertaining only to the time when the song was written?

7

I would like just to add to other perfect answers here that in the time this song was composed it was common in Soviet Union to have so-called дружинники (="народная дружина", something like vigilantes, neighborhood guards or citizen patrols). Despite the claimed "voluntary" nature of these squads, there were in fact not and every grown-up man was obliged to join them and to patrol the streets in his neighborhood during one night in 2-3 months. I remember my father to do it several times, and these night patrols were called "duties" (=дежурства) or "duties for your neighborhood" (дежурство по микрорайону).

So, as a native speaker of Russian and a person who grew up there I always understood these words as an allusion to these "duties".

3
  • WOW!!! That's quite an insight!!! I've always thought that there could be some connotation in this song that had to do with some specific element related to the time the song was written.
    – brilliant
    Jun 23 '13 at 22:40
  • 3
    well, yes, there were those neighbourhood guards - but I don't think this is the connotation the author had in mind.
    – Qwerty
    Dec 8 '14 at 15:16
  • I would agree with Qwerty, that it is unlikely that this is the meaning author was referring to. IMHO the closest is the answer by @farfareast which uses month "April" to refer to Spring which in turn is a period of love, feelings
    – Dimitry K
    Dec 8 '14 at 19:22
14

"Дежурный по чему-либо" means a person keeping watch over something. Cf. дежурный по железнодорожной станции -- railway station attendant; дежурный по воинскому подразделению -- military unit duty officer.

In this verse the phrase is used metaphorically; the persona spends nights out, walking the streets, as if he were keeping watch over the month of April.

8
  • He is using the phrase as an answer to his mom and it looks like he expects his mom to understand his answer right away. Are you sure it's a metaphor?
    – brilliant
    Jun 12 '13 at 12:15
  • Also, in your examples a certain place or an object that is being watched over follows the preposition "по". However, in the phrase I am asking about a certain period of time follows - the name of the fifth month of year. As far as I know, in Russian the combination of "по" with a time period denotes times when something happens, for example, "по весне", "по осени". So, could it be so that in this phrase he is not watching over the month of April, but rather watching over something else each April?
    – brilliant
    Jun 12 '13 at 12:19
  • 5
    Yes I'm sure, and no it could not.
    – mustaccio
    Jun 12 '13 at 13:39
  • 3
    Or may be he does care, just doesn't want his mother to worry, so he invents a funny-sounding excuse. It's poetry, not a project status report.
    – mustaccio
    Jun 12 '13 at 14:59
  • 2
    To sum (how I understand it): he's walking all days long alone, and his mother asks whether he's sad because of his relationship, and he invents an excuse “No, that's just my job, I'm responsible for April and I have to supervise it.”
    – kirelagin
    Jun 13 '13 at 10:42
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It is not an idiom, it is an occasionalism coined by Okudzhava, it means "the one responsible for April", "the one in charge of April", "the sentry of April", the overall meaning being "the person controlling the bloonimg, the awakening of the Nature from the winter sleep", that's a great metaphor, created by an outstanding poet.

6

Just an addition to previous answers.

Although this is a possible association to дежурный that "he spends nights out, walking the streets" - to me the other aspect is coming to mind first. It is that April is synonym to spring and while many are falling in love in this month and loose their heads (теряют головы), he must keep his clear mind as person on duty.

So, it is not physical aspect of him walking a lot, and literally not sleeping, but metaphorically while others go to dreams of love, he needs to stay awake and with cool head and pass this difficult place for him - place with the name "April". He walks axis of time - not only x, y, z axes of space.

This is what he pretends to be to his mom (a person on duty) but in fact, probably, he still cannot get over his love for someone (as mom says: "может быть она тебя забыла, знать не хочет").

0

One connotation not mentioned here, but perhaps relevant, as maybe the mother still sees the man as a kid. In Soviet times, there was a rotating duty among the children in a class, and the one on duty was supposed to generally help the teacher, e.g. clean the blackboard before the start of each lesson, help bring any lab equipment, know who was absent today, and perhaps help to set the class' table in the school canteen. So дежурный по классу was the one responsible for the class.

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