The son of a sea captain, Very was born in Salem, Massachusetts, and spent much of his early childhood at sea with his father. Following his father's death in 1824, he attended public school in Salem, and later, with the help of a tutor, he gained enough education to take a teaching position in Salem in order to earn money for tuition to attend Harvard College. Graduating in 1836, he continued his studies in the Harvard School of Divinity and at the same time served as Tutor in Greek at the College. While at Harvard, Very was subject to moments of religious ecstacy, so that his sanity was questioned by his superiors, and he was briefly committed to a nearby asylum. Returning to Salem without taking a degree from the Divinity School, Very led a retired life, devoting more and more of his time to the study of religion and literature. In 1843 he was finally licensed as a Unitarian preacher, but his shy, other-worldly nature made him either unable or unwilling ever to accept a permanent pastorate. Very was a peripheral follower of Concord Transcendentalism and was much admired by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who saw in Very's commitment to mysticism and literature both nobility and magnanimity of character. Beyond his admiration of Very's character, Emerson was an enthusiastic supporter of his poetry, recognizing in Very's sonnets the intense love of nature, the mystical humility, and the submissive nature that gave to Very's sonnets mystical intensity coupled with a serene control.