I've always felt that Prufrock was about something more than mere shyness,
and I think that homosexuality might (but probably doesn't) fit the bill.
It would do something to explain the poem's dedication and epigraph; in n
other words, if the poem *is* related to homosexuality then there may be
an implicit message there: that since Eliot himself *does* expect to
return, as it were, from the gulf of the poem, he is not entirely free to
speak 'without fear of infamy' of his 'overwhelming question'.
However, in the final analysis I doubt that the poem does pertain to
homosexuality - but rather to sexual improprieties that arise from a
dissatisfaction/boredom Prufrock/Eliot feels in his relationship. I
remember that when I first read Prufrock I immediately felt that the
'half-deserted streets/The muttering retreats/Of restless nights in
one-night cheap hotels" pertained to brothels -- providing restless nights
both literatal and figurative. When the theme is rejoined, I see the
"lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows" not as prostitutes,
but rather as Johns, having a post-coital smoke. I find the "lonely"
descriptor much more likely for the latter than the former.
And besides, remember the digression that's led to by 'the perfume of a
dress': I'd say that Prufrock here is a bit of an old perv, as it happens,
and that if he's "known the arms already" then it's meant as much in a
sense of repressed sexuality as in one of ennui or of fear.
I'd be wary of reading too much into the smoke/fog/soot thing -- the cat
theme is sexual, no doubt, but it's also redolent of laziness, of a lazy
situation in a common-place theme. I like to think of the opening of the
poem as something akin to Dickens' Christmas Carol, in which some ghost
takes us to "make our visit", and in which the fog 'curls about' to take
us back to a situation in which we can stand by the window and watch
Prufrock at his meditations as he paces back and forth toward the
stairway. I may be mistaken, but I find the 'ejaculation' idea something
of a stretch.
Still, what's the poem 'all about'? What makes this especially difficult
to answer, for me, is the answer that "one" gives. It's almost as though
what Prufrock most fears isn't any *real* crisis, but rather that his
concerns, his feelings, will be simply dismissed as irrelevant -- that,
when all of his 'inner self' is projected as though by a 'magic lantern',
it will transpire to not really be all that important. I'm afraid that,
when all is said and done, I'm still left asking "What is it?"..
Just a few rambling thoughts..