Parini (originally spelled Parino) was born in Bosisio (later rechristened Bosisio Parini in his honour) in Brianza, Lombardy. His father, who was a petty silk trader, sent him to Milan under the care of his grandaunt: there he studied under the Barnabites in the Academy Arcimboldi, sustaining himself in the meantime by copying manuscripts. In 1741 his grandaunt left him a monthly payment, at the condition that he would enter priesthood. Parini was thus ordained, although his religious studies were not profitable, because of his need to work in a lawyer's office during his free time, and his intolerance to the old fashioned teaching methods used.
In 1752, he published at Lugano, under the pseudonym of "Ripano Eupilino", a small volume of selected verses, Alcune poesie, which secured his election to the Accademia dei Trasformati at Milan, as well as to the Accademia dell'Arcadia at Rome. His poem, Il Giorno (The Day, 1763), consisting of ironic instructions to a young nobleman as to the best method of spending his mornings, marked a distinct advance in Italian blank verse. It at once established Parini's popularity and influence, and two years later a continuation of the same theme was published under the title of Il Mezzogiorno.
The Austrian plenipotentiary in Milan, Count Karl Joseph von Firmian, interested himself in procuring the poet's advancement, appointing him in the first place as editor of the Milan Gazette, and in 1769, in despite of the Jesuits, to a specially created chair of belles lettres in the Palatine school. On the French occupation of Milan he was appointed magistrate by Napoleon, but almost immediately retired to resume his literary work and to complete Il Vespro and La Notte (published after his death), which, with two other poems already mentioned, compose what is collectively entitled Il Giorno. Among other poems his rather artificial Odi, composed between 1757 and 1795, have appeared in various editions. He was associated with the Accademia della Crusca.
Parini's work was accepted by younger poets mainly as a lesson in morality and freedom of thought. Ugo Foscolo, who met Parini in Milan, portrayed him as a serious, dignified person in Ultime lettere di Jacopo Ortis and accused the rich and corrupt town which had forgotten him, in Dei sepolcri.
He died in August 1799 in Milan. A statue of the poet occupies a place of honor in Milan's busy Piazzale Cordusio. His family still lives on, with Simon Cereda-Parini being the youngest known relative to continue the name to this day.
- ——, and Herbert Morris Bower. The Day Morning, Midday, Evening, Night : a Poem. Westport, Conn: Hyperion Press, 1978. ISBN 0-88355-592-1