Tuckerman was born into a prosperous and distinguished Boston family on February 4, 1821. According to a family genealogy, privately printed by a relative, Bayard Tuckerman, in 1917, he entered Harvard University in 1841, but did not remain long, due to an eye problem. Bayard goes on to write: "Later, he entered the law school, graduating in 1842, and was admitted to the Suffolk Bar. Finding the practice of law distasteful, he abandoned it and devoted himself to the pursuit of his favorite studies—literature, botany and astronomy. His love of nature led him in early manhood to settle in the country. He had a fine telescope, and for several years kept a journal of astronomical and meteorological phenomena, from time to time publishing his observations. As a botanist he was recognized as an authority on the Flora of Franklin County and the adjacent region." According to N. Scott Momaday, "In 1847, he removed to Greenfield, in western Massachusetts. The life he began at Greenfield was a strange one for a man in his middle twenties; it was a life of relative seclusion and retirement. He married in the same year Hannah Lucinda Jones, a dark-haired, gentle woman, whose disposition was well suited to his own. Ten years later, Hannah died, within a week after the birth of her third child. Her death was the deepest hurt of Tuckerman's life and the beginning of his final solitude."
Despite Tuckerman's general isolation, both before and after his wife's death, the poet did travel abroad, meeting at least one famous poet, and communicated with several other American writers of note. According to Momaday, "In 1851, and again in 1854, Tuckerman journeyed abroad. On the first of these excursions he met Alfred Tennyson; on the second he was Tennyson's guest at Farringford. The friendship between the two men appears to have been fast and of long standing. We do not know what Tennyson thought of Tuckerman's poetry. On the second visit with Tennyson, the poet laureate gave him the original manuscript of Locksley Hall. Tuckerman published Poems in 1860; it was his only poetry collection published in his lifetime. "The American writers to whom Tuckerman sent complimentary copies of the 1860 Poems are an impressive lot. The list of recipients includes the names of Emerson, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Bryant, and Jones Very." The responses he received were polite and favorable. They generally distinguished "the intrinsic merit of Tuckerman's work and 'external success'", the likelihood of it meeting popular success "with the world". "The printing of Tuckerman's volume of poems in 1860 was the high point of his public career. When he had made his claim on the attention of the most respected literary men of his day, he returned to his seclusion. He continued to write, indeed, the best of his work was yet to come, but he never again exposed himself to the world."
Tuckerman died May 9, 1873, in Greenfield.
Poet's Seat Tower is a 1912 sandstone observation tower in Greenfield named for the site's attraction to poets, particularly Tuckerman.